A London auction house may soon face legal troubles after Egyptian officials said a bust of King Tut that recently was auctioned off for the equivalent of $5.97 million is an artifact that had been stolen from the North African nation.
Christie’s auction house sold the 3,000-year-old, brown quartzite head of Egyptian pharoh Tutankhamun (King Tut) Thursday to an unnamed buyer in the United Kingdom, according to Al Jazeera.
It was one of 32 Egyptian artifacts sold that day, the news agency reported.
At the time, the prominent British auction house had reportedly been in touch with Egyptian authorities in Cairo and the London embassy and knew about claims the bust was stolen.
Former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass told the AFP news agency on Sunday that the piece appears to have been stolen from the Karnak Temple complex of Egypt’s great monuments in the 1970s.
“The owners have given false information,” he said. “They have not shown any legal papers to prove its ownership.”
Egypt has asked Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization, to help find the statute, the AFP reported.
Khaled El-Enany, the current Egyptian antiquities minister, told the BBC the Egyptian National Committee for Antiquities Repatriation also instructed a British law firm to file a civil lawsuit in the incident.
“They left us with no other option but to go to court to restore our smuggled antiquities,” he said.
“We will leave no stone unturned until we repatriate the Tutankhamun bust and the other 32 pieces sold by Christie’s,” Enany said. “This is human heritage that should be on public display in its country of origin.”
Christie’s has denied any wrongdoing, saying it carried out “extensive due diligence” to verify the provenance of the bust and had “gone beyond what is required to assure legal title,” CBS News reported.
Christie’s antiquities specialist Laetitia Delaloye explained the history of the bust on an auction listing for it online.
“This face is recognisable among a thousand Egyptian royal faces,” Delaloye said.
She described “almond-shaped eyes, notably high cheek bones” and a top lip that is thicker than the bottom.
“The flesh, the eyes, the lips, are extremely naturalistic,” she said. “There is no stylisation.”
She said the auction house was honored to present the work of art.
“It has been very well known on the market, and has been published and exhibited many times over the past 35 years,” Delaloye said.