Egypt demands Italy hand over ex-officials accused of stealing artifacts

The case centers on some 22,000 Egyptian relics, including gold coins, discovered by Italian authorities in 2017.

al-monitor Coins, including rare gold coins, are displayed at the exhibition "Coins through the Ages" at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, on Aug. 10, 2010.  Photo by KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images.

Dec 18, 2020

Egypt has demanded Italy hand over a former honorary consul and trade commissioner accused of trying to smuggle thousands of stolen antiquities out of the North African country. 

The Egyptian government Thursday called for the extradition of Ladislav Otakar Skakal, Italy’s former honorary consul in Luxor, and of Italy's former trade commissioner to Egypt, Massimiliano Sponzilli. The two countries don't have an extradition treaty. 

In January, the Cairo criminal court sentenced Skakal in absentia to 15 years in prison. The state prosecutor said he tried to smuggle some 22,000 Egyptian relics to Italy, some of which were found in his home and private safe. 

Italian police in 2017 found a trove of artifacts, which included thousands of golden coins, mummy masks, pottery and a wooden sarcophagus, stashed in a diplomatic shipping container that arrived in the Italian port city of Salerno from Alexandria. The antiquities were later returned to Egypt.

Prosecutors named Raouf Ghali, the brother of a former Mubarak-era finance minister, as one of Skakal’s Egyptian accomplices. In February, a court sentenced Ghali to 30 years in prison for his alleged role in the smuggling operation. 

Relations between Cairo and Rome are already under pressure following an announcement last week from Italian prosecutors that they plan to charge four high-ranking Egyptian security officials in the 2016 kidnapping and murder of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni. The Cambridge University doctoral student disappeared in the Egyptian capital on the fifth anniversary of the revolution that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. His body, showing signs of torture, was found off the side of a highway days later.  

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