Spain Arrests Seller of Illegally Acquired Ancient Egyptian Sculpture

Published: 17 April 2024

Ptolemai Head SculptureThe head of an Egyptian sculpture like this one was trafficked to several European countries by means of documents that did not belong to it but were used to deceive gallery owners in Germany and Switzerland. (Photo: Jl FilpoC, Wikimedia, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

Spanish authorities have reported the arrest of an antiquities dealer for illegally obtaining and selling the head of an Egyptian sculpture dating back to approximately 1450 BC. The sculpture was found to have been acquired from a Bangkok company linked to the antiquities trade in conflict zones such as North Africa and the Middle East.

Officials claim that the owner of a gallery in Barcelona, whose name was not revealed, knew of its illicit provenance when he bought it and then sold it to another gallery for over US$200,000 using fake documents. The paperwork contained details of a similar piece from a 1970 collection that fit the description of the unlawfully acquired one.

The piece passed through a German and then a Swiss gallery before being offered for sale at the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht last year. It was at this fair that the Swiss gallery discovered the illicit provenance of the piece and handed it over to Dutch authorities.

"The arrested individual was perfectly aware of the illicit origin of the Egyptian head seized in the Netherlands and executed several maneuvers to create a false history that would conceal the true origin of the piece, allowing it to enter the legal market, which offers the highest profits," stated the Spanish National Police on Monday.

The Spanish gallery owner is now facing charges of money laundering, smuggling, and falsifying documentation.