Egyptian cultural artefacts secured

Switzerland provides legal assistance

Press Release, FOJ, 11.09.2003

Bern / Geneva, 11.9.2003. Switzerland is supporting Egypt in its enquiries into the illegal excavation and export of archaeological artefacts. In response to an application from Egypt for legal assistance, the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) has ordered the collection of documentation and has secured under the terms of legal assistance proceedings the cultural artefacts that have already been seized by the authorities in Geneva.

At the end of August, the investigating judge in Geneva took more than 200 archaeological artefacts – specifically statues, masks, sarcophagi and two mummies – into custody in the Geneva duty-free warehouse as part of criminal proceedings on the grounds of theft, receiving stolen property and fraud. At the request of the Geneva authorities, the FOJ sent the Egyptian authorities the photographs of the objects held in the Geneva duty-free warehouse. Under the terms of the Federal Act on International Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, evidence can be supplied unrequested to foreign prosecuting authorities in order to assist with a pending criminal investigation.

At the beginning of September, the Egyptian embassy in Bern submitted a request for legal assistance to the FOJ. The Egyptian chief public prosecutor's office is conducting criminal investigations into a number of persons who are thought to have carried out illegal excavations at several archaeological sites, taken possession of countless archaeological artefacts and then subsequently sold or exported them. Ruling in favour of the request, the FOJ stated that the provision of legal assistance is permissible and ordered the goods to be secured and documents relating to their purchase and import to be collected. The owners have ten days in which to inform the FOJ whether or not they consent to surrendering the documentation and the seized goods for the purposes of evidence. Should they not agree to the simplified execution of legal assistance proceedings, the FOJ will decide on the handover in a final ruling.

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