New York museum to return looted coffin to Egypt

The Metropolitan Museum of Art bought the coffin for four million dollars in 2017

Lid of the coffin of Nedjemankh, priest of Heyrshef. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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The Metropolitan Museum of Art will return an ancient gilded coffin to Egypt after New York prosecutors determined that it had been looted from that country, the museum said.

The museum had purchased the prized coffin, dating from the first century BCE, in July 2017 from a Paris art dealer for a price of nearly four million dollars.

However, the Manhattan district attorney's office determined that the mummy-shaped golden coffin had been sold with fake documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license.

It was not clear what had sparked the district attorney's investigation.

The statement Friday quoted Met CEO Daniel Weiss as apologising to the Egyptian people and specifically to Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany.

"After we learned that the Museum was a victim of fraud and unwittingly participated in the illegal trade of antiquities, we worked with the DA's office for its return to Egypt," Mr Weiss said.

The museum said it would "consider all available remedies to recoup the purchase price of the coffin" and would commit itself "to identifying how justice can be served, and how we can help to deter future offences against cultural property."

MoMA vowed to "review and revise its acquisitions process."

The elaborately decorated coffin, viewed by nearly a half-million visitors since it was made the centrepiece of a major exhibition in July, is sheathed in gold, which the ancient Egyptians associated with the gods.

It is inscribed with the name of Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef of Herakleopolis.

The Met took the coffin off view this week to deliver it to the district attorney's office for its eventual return to Egypt.