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France returns Ptolemaic-era statue to Libya after looting in 2011

April 3, 2024 at 8:53 am

An ancient Greek statue seized in France in 2016 is brought to Mitiga International Airport by a private plane from Paris in Tripoli, Libya on March 28, 2024 [Muhammed Semiz – Anadolu Agency]

France has returned a 2,400-year-old statue to Libya, over a decade after it was looted from the North African country and kept in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

According to Libya’s Administrative Control Authority on Friday, the statue had arrived at Mitiga Airport in Tripoli where it was handed over by the Authority’s head, Abdullah Gaderbou, to Ali Shalak, chief of the Antiquities Department.

The handover took place after being picked up by Gaderbou during an official visit to Paris last week and packed in a special wooden crate, months after an agreement in October between French and Libyan authorities for its return.

The headless bust – reportedly a funeral statue commemorating an unknown man at his grave – was reportedly smuggled illegally from the city of Shahat in north-east Libya back in 2011 during the uprising against deposed dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, when looting of antiquities from the country was rampant amid the instability. Since 2016, it was then kept at Paris’s Louvre Museum, before the institution was alerted to its origin last year.

READ: Switzerland hands Foreign Ministry list of seized Libyan antiquities

According to the Libyan National Museum, the bust dates back to the 4th century, when the ancient city of Cyrene and its surrounding region of Cyrenaica in the east of modern Libya was part of Egypt’s Greek Ptolemaic kingdom.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the National Museum said that “We thank everyone who contributed to the return of this piece to its homeland, affirming our commitment to protecting and restoring our cultural heritage.”

The return of the headless statue marks the latest major antiquity to be handed over back to Libyan authorities in recent years, with a previous notable case being Britain’s returning of a 2,000-year-old funerary statue of the ancient Greek deity, Persephone – also stolen from Cyrene in 2011 – to Libya in 2021.