Dr. Hawass Calls for Return of Stolen Artifact
In a press conference held today in Supreme Council of Antiquities 's premises (SCA), Dr. Zahi Hawass secretary general of the SCA asserted that May 15 was the final dead line given to St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM) to return Ka-nefer-nefer mask stolen and smuggled out of Egypt sometimes in late 1950's.
During the press conference Hawass announced that in respond to St. Louis Art Museum's director Brent Benjamin refusal to return back the mask, the SCA will take all legal procedures to recover the mask considered as one of Egypt's stolen heritage to its homeland. In collaboration with Egypt's Attorney general the SCA will file a law suit against the SLAM at St. Louis Court as well as providing the Interpol with all the evidence that proof Egypt's possession of the mask in order to help Egypt return it back. Hawass pointed out that the SCA will prohibit any further scientific cooperation with the SLAM as long as it keeps the stolen mask among its collection.
He will also call all schools in St. Louis to ban visiting the SLAM as it contains an Egyptian stolen piece.
Hawass also refutes Benjamin's claim that the mask was given to Egyptologist Zakariya Ghoneim, who discovered the mask in Saqqara necropolis in 1952, as part of a division of finds. Hawass asserted that this action is impossible. According to the Egyptian law no division was allowed with Egyptians. In addition Ghoneim as an Egyptian excavator who worked with the Egyptian government cannot offered such mask. As for the claim that the mask was seen in an auction hall in Brussels in 1952, Hawass denies it as the mask was registered among Saqqara inspectorate's registered book as a stored item until 1959 when it has been transferred to the Egyptian museum in order to be exhibited. According to the museum's files the mask never entered the museum and it has not been seen in Egypt since that time.
Also, curator of ancient art Michael C. Carlos museum in Atlanta Peter Lacovara and Egyptologist John Taylor supported Hawass' statement and asserted that the mask was stolen and illegally smuggled out of Egypt. They also reported this information accompanied with documents in a letter send to Benjamin early last month.
The story of this mask started few months ago when a foreign archaeologist inform the SCA that the missing Ka-nefer-nefer mask is on display at the SLAM.
Hawass directly sent a request to Benjamin to return the mask back as it is one of Egypt's illegally smuggled artifact. The request was supported with documents proving Egypt's ownership of the mask. On his part, Benjamin failed to take any concrete action to return the mask which led Hawass to announce a dead line for the mask's return. A day before the decided dead line, Benjamin told foreign reporters in a press conference held in St. Louis that the museum refuse to return the mask as it is not Egypt's possession.