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US citizen accused of smuggling Egyptian artefacts through JFK Airport

Egyptian artefacts Egypt [Ministry of Antiquities]

A man from Brooklyn was indicted yesterday after allegedly smuggling hundreds of ancient Egyptian artefacts, some of them almost 4,000 years old, through JFK International Airport earlier this year.

According to the announcement by federal prosecutors, US citizen Ashraf Omar Eldarir was charged with smuggling Egyptian cultural property into the US. He was arrested in February after arriving in the country the previous month with three suitcases filled with undeclared antiquities.

The cases contained 590 ancient Egyptian artefacts which were bubble and foam-wrapped. However, Eldarir told US customs officials that he was carrying goods worth only $300. When the items were inspected and unwrapped, sand and dirt spilled out with some of the items smelling of "wet earth", suggesting that they had only recently been excavated.

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"These cultural treasures travelled across centuries and millennia, only to end up unceremoniously stuffed in a dirt-caked suitcase at JFK," said Richard P Donoghue, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Among the hundreds of relics recovered by law enforcement officers were gold amulets from a funerary set; a relief with the cartouche of a Ptolemaic king that was originally part of a royal building or temple; and wooden model tomb figures with linen garments dating to approximately 1900 BCE.

Eldarir was charged with one count of smuggling, and one count of smuggling involving an earlier trip in which he smuggled an ancient Egyptian polychrome relief.

"Eldarir's alleged smuggling of 590 artefacts pillaged from Egypt is yet another example of an individual seeking to profit by stealing history from another nation," said Homeland Security Investigation Special Agent-in-Charge Peter C Fitzhugh.

If convicted, Eldarir faces a maximum sentence of 20 years' imprisonment on each count. A date for his appearance at Brooklyn Federal Court has not yet been set.

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