Egypt’s Suing To Get Back A King Tut Statue That Sold For $6M At Christie’s

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
King Tut
A 3,000-year-old stone sculpture of the famed boy pharaoh Tutankhamun at Christie’s in London. Photo: Christie’s

Despite an outcry from Egypt, Land of the Pharaohs, a statue of King Tut’s head that they claim was stolen fetched a mouthwatering $6 million at auction last week in London.

Egypt says it’s suing Christie’s auction house to get it back, BBC reported.

The 3,000-year-old sculpture of Egyptian boy king Tutankhamen was on sale at Christie’s barely a day after Egypt’s Foreign and Antiquities ministries issued a joint statement condemning the company for trading a stolen artifact.

The North African country claims that the statue was likely stolen during the 1970s from the Karnak temple in the Egyptian city of Luxor.

Christie’s displayed more than a dozen Egyptian artifacts among other items at an auction last week and managed to sell the statue.

“Christie’s has no evidence that this head of Tutankhamen left Egypt legally. They did not offer to us any kind of papers to show the legality of this statue,” Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former minister of antiquities affairs, told Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

An estimated 90 percent of African art, including historic statues, thrones and manuscripts, is believed to be outside the continent, most of it stolen from tombs and other places. The value of these objects has sky-rocketed in recent years, fueled by a growing appetite from international collectors.

The nearly 11-inch tall bronze head of King Tut dates to 1333-1323 B.C. and was documented among a collection of German Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis by the 1960s. No previous records are available about it, hence the Egyptian claim on it.

Before its last auction, the statue was owned by the Resandro collection in Germany, which acquired it in 1985. Its current buyer is still anonymous.

Christie’s said in a statement that it would not have sold the statue if there were legitimate concerns about its ownership. Egypt did not raise any issues when the sculpture was sold as part of a private collection for $3.7 million in 2016. A British auction house, Christie’s is owned by French businessman François-Henri Pinault. Sales at Christie’s in 2018 totaled $7 billion.

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The Egyptian embassy in London complained to the U.K. Foreign Office that the sale was “inconsistent with relevant international treaties and conventions,” BBC reported.

Egypt’s former antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, said the bust appeared to have been “stolen” in the 1970s from the Temple of Karnak. “The owners have given false information,” he told AFP news agency. “They have not shown any legal papers to prove its ownership.”

Egypt wants the auction to be cancelled.