A UK-based businessman has been arrested on suspicion of looting Egyptian artefacts after he consigned several items into a Christie’s antiquities sale in London.
The six objects, withdrawn just days before the May 2 sale, are believed to have been stolen from a recently discovered tomb in Thebes. Experts from Christie's, the British Museum's Egyptology department, the Egyptian embassy and the Art Loss Register identified the stolen pieces in an investigation with Scotland Yard's Art & Antiquities Squad.
Egyptian news organisation Ahram described the thefts and the investigation as "one of the biggest operations of its kind since the Egyptian revolution exploded in 2011".
The suspect, a man in his early 60s from north-east London, had told the auction house he inherited the pieces from his uncle who had served in Egypt during the Second World War and stayed on for a few years before returning to the UK in the '50s. They had been catalogued as such in Christie's sale where estimates ranged from £800-2000.
A statement released by the auction house said: "Christie's works closely with international authorities and organisations towards our shared objective of preventing the illicit trade in improperly exported or stolen works of art.
"On 26 April, Christie's informed the police that it believed six lots consigned to its antiquities sale had been recently stolen from Egypt. Christie's also notified the Egyptian Embassy on the same day and confirmed that it had withdrawn the suspect lots and would be working with the police to ensure their speedy return to Egypt.
"We hope that this case - and the consequences for the seller - will send a strong message to those engaged in the illicit trade."