A British couple arrested in Egypt on suspicion of trying to smuggle priceless artifacts out of the country were returning home last night after it emerged the objects had been bought at a tourist bazaar.
Michael Newey, 65, and his wife Angela, 62, were stopped at Luxor International Airport by officials trying to clamp down on the burgeoning illegal trade in looted antiquities.
According to reports, the couple, who are believed to have lived in Egypt for the past nine years, were carrying 19 objects in their luggage.
The items included pharaonic statues, a Greco-Roman bronze coin, ancient manuscripts and a 16th century Bible, which are protected under Egypt's antiquity and cultural laws.
Mrs Newey is reported to have smashed three of the items as they were being examined by experts from the Ministry of Antiquities.
The seized pieces will be transported to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and examined by specialists.
However, the couple were released after it became clear the objects were almost certainly cheap fakes bought in the local market, where convincing reproductions – often made in China – are openly on sale to tourists.
The Britons told officials the coin, originally believed to date back to Roman times, was, in fact, from Romania.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office in London said the couple were on their way home. "They have been released and are travelling back to the UK," he said.
The local English language newspaper, the Luxor Times, said the Britons deserved an apology once it had been established the items were fake.
Although Egypt's antiquities have been looted by outsiders for centuries, security has deteriorated since the overthrow of President Mubarak last year. Several pieces have gone missing from the Egyptian Museum, including a gilded wood statue of the pharaoh Tutankhamen.