Former Egyptian MP sentenced to 10 years for smuggling antiquities

Billionaire Hassan Rateb, who financed the illegal artefacts smuggling operations led by former NDP MP Alaa Hassanein, was sentenced to 5 years in prison for his involvement

Men charged with illegal excavation and trafficking of antiquities, react in the accused dock during the verdict announcement session of their trial in Egypt's capital Cairo on April 21, 2022.  - The court handed Egyptian businessman Hassan Ratib a 5-year jail sentence, and former MP Alaa Hassanein 10 years, local media reported.  (Photo by Khaled KAMEL  /  AFP)

An Egyptian criminal court sentenced on Thursday a former parliamentarian and several accomplices to up to 10 years in prison for their involvement in a high-profile antiquities-smuggling operation thwarted by security officials last year.

The trial of Alaa Hassanein, a former member of President Hosni Mubarak’s now-dissolved National Democratic Party, and the other members of his illegal antiquities ring, was broadcast via livestream by a number of Egyptian media outlets on Thursday.

Hassanein, along with five others, was sentenced to 10 years in a maximum-security prison for conducting illegal digs predominantly in Islamic Cairo, a historic district in the heart of the Egyptian capital.

Meanwhile, billionaire Hassan Rateb, the main financier behind Hassanein’s operation, was slapped with a five-year sentence for his smaller role in the ring’s operations.

The court handed Rateb a five-year jail sentence, and former MP Alaa Hassanein 10 years. AFP

Hassanein, widely considered the mastermind behind the operation, was arrested in June last year along with a large number of his accomplices, including Rateb.

Prosecution investigations at the time found a large number of incriminating videos and audio recordings on the detainees’ phones, including footage of illegal digs and photos of the retrieved artefacts, which numbered in the hundreds. Among the evidence were also extensive WhatsApp conversations between the members.

The stolen artefacts, a large number of which were found in a warehouse by security officials last year, dated back to various eras of Egypt’s history, according to an inventory list released by the country’s prosecutor-general in December.

The list includes tablets with hieroglyphic engravings, prehistoric rocks, surgical needles from the Islamic era, and antique vases and statues.

Artefact smuggling is illegal in Egypt and in recent years, the state has stepped up its efforts to crack down on the practice, which continues to be undertaken all over the country, mostly on private lands.

Aside from the main smuggling charges, the defendants were also charged with damaging state property after they dismantled some of the pieces they found to transport them more easily outside Egypt.

A prosecution statement on Thursday said that the operation was discovered after Rateb sued Hassanein in several Egyptian courts on the grounds that he had not received large amounts of money owed to him by the former parliamentarian. Upon further investigations, security officials determined that this money was given to Hassanein to continue his illegal digs.

Rateb, who is a household name in Egypt, especially among the country’s entrepreneurial elite, founded one of the most popular private television stations in the country, El Mehwar.

Egypt has in recent years stepped up efforts to track down stolen artefacts around the world, monitoring auctions in major western cities and pressing authorities there to hand them back.

Men charged with illegal excavation and trafficking of antiquities react in the accused dock during the verdict announcement session of their trial in Egypt's capital Cairo on April 21, 2022.  - The court handed Egyptian businessman Hassan Ratib a five-year jail sentence, and former MP Alaa Hassanein (standing-L) 10 years, local media reported.  (Photo by Khaled KAMEL  /  AFP)
Updated: April 21, 2022, 6:21 PM
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