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St. Louis Art Museum Fights to Keep Egyptian Relic of Questionable Provenance

ka-nefer-nefer.jpg
Ka-Nefer-Nefer's smile suggests she's amused by all the fuss over her -- 3,200 years after her death.
The federal government is following up on a possible case of stolen artwork that the Riverfront Times first reported on in back in early 2006.

The case involves the burial mask of ancient Egyptian noblewoman Ka-Nefer-Nefer that the St. Louis Art Museum acquired in 1998 from a New York antiquities dealer. The museum contends that it thoroughly researched the history of the relic before paying $499,000 for the piece and found it to have been been owned by European art collector since the 1960s. Egyptian officials, meanwhile, say the mask was stolen from a storage room near the Saqarra pyramid in the 1990s.

The Post-Dispatch reports today that officials with the U.S. Attorney's office in St. Louis met with the museum last month to demand that they turnover the mask that was first unearthed in a 1952 archeological dig. Instead, the museum has now sued the U.S. government in federal court here, claiming that the statute of limitations have expired because officials failed to act within five years of the theft or two years within its discovery. What's more, the museum argues that there is no proof that the mask was ever stolen.

Federal officials have yet to respond to the suit.

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2 comments
Things that make you go hmmmm
Things that make you go hmmmm

This does not surprise me. I worked for the Art museum and during my employment found several pieces that had questionable history. Including several pieces that were actually purchased from the Nazis. Receipts on the items were actually in there possession. When questioned about the facts, there recourse were threats and the belief that the statute of limitations made it a finders keepers type of deal. Other conflicts of interest I found were the purchases of Art by the director for his private collection that were sold off by the museum at rates lower then market value. Yet another interesting fact. All expansion in forest park is to go to a vote of the citizens of Saint Louis. The Art Museum bypassed this by paying the city for a road way and land . The old fruit loop (slang) was dug up to give them concrete rights . In order to bypass the vote of the people. The land the Art museum purchased was Art hill . The city of Saint Louis brokered a deal to let the Museum redevelop and add on to the existing building without it going to a vote of the people. I would love to see someone follow that money trail .

Scary Situation
Scary Situation

If this was an individual, the Feds would have an indictment already and they'd have seized all their assets and effectively denied them any chance of a defense at all.

The person would have likely also lost their sources of income as a result and ... they'd be forced to fold in a plea agreement... turn over the goods and plead guilty to some lesser charge.

Unfortunately the balance has really completed tipped in favor of prosecutors these days... for individuals defending themselves they have little hope. The government need only accuse them... they need no evidence to back up their claims...

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