Bazaar tale of King Pepi and the Egyptian souvenirs

`We painted them up. You ended with a piece that looked as if it came from a bazaar'

A leading antiques restorer smuggled stolen tomb relics out of Egypt by painting them to look like cheap bazaar souvenirs, even marking one with the word "Egypt", a court was told yesterday.

Once back in England, Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, known as "Jonty", cut up and repainted the relics so they could be resold without trace, it was said at Knightsbridge Crown Court in west London.

On the first day of the trial, members of the jury were told that Mr Tokeley-Parry said to Mark Perry, whom he commissioned to smuggle the pieces out of Egypt, that he was "doing the Egyptians a favour" by restoring them to their former glory. Earlier, they were shown photographs of Mr Tokeley-Parry and an Egyptian accomplice sawing up a false door from the tomb of Hetepka, before the sections were resold.

Mr Tokeley-Parry has pleaded not guilty to three counts of handling stolen goods, including artefacts from the pyramid tombs of Hetepka and King Pepi and a bronze figure of the Egyptian god Horus.

Paul Dodgson, for the prosecution, told the jury that the careful disguising of the well-documented valuables once they were in England was essential if they were to be resold undetected.

"If you can mislead the prospective purchasers on where it came from, then you can also avoid the conclusion that the object was stolen after 1983," he said. This was the date on which the exports of Egyptian relics were banned under law.

The court was told that Mark Perry, an odd-job man, was introduced to Mr Tokeley-Parry in 1992 by a mutual friend. With one child and another on the way, Mr Perry said he was keen to earn extra money.

"He [Mr Tokeley-Parry] asked if I would be interested in doing a bit of smuggling. I wasn't interested at the time," Mr Perry said. "He said it wasn't drugs, it was antiquities. I was all right with that."

Mr Perry told the court that Mr Tokeley-Parry, who was said to have already attempted to recruit someone else, agreed to pay him pounds 500 a trip to an as yet unnamed destination. "I was over the moon. It was nearly the same as I was earning in a month," he said.

Mr Perry, who had done very little travelling, said he assumed that "smuggling" meant that he would be breaking minor export laws. "I spoke to Jonathan Tokeley-Parry the next day. I think I said something daft like `I'm in.' He laughed ... he said "I knew you would'."

Mr Perry said he was given a black Samsonite suitcase with combination locks, which Mr Tokeley-Parry told him were best for security, and told to buy some new clothes, for which he was given a loan.

The first trip, he was to be accompanied by Mr Tokeley-Parry. "I thought if he's coming with me it can't be that difficult," Mr Perry said.

He said that when they arrived at the Windsor Hotel in Cairo in September 1992, Mr Tokeley-Parry checked himself in as Dr Johnson. He appeared to be well known to hotel staff. Soon after they arrived, Mr Perry said, Egyptian people brought antiquities to their hotel room, including figurines and a stone relief. He said Mr Tokeley-Parry showed him how to "paint them up".

"We first had some sort of liquid, B72. It hardened as you painted it on, I suppose to save damage." Afterwards, they would apply gold leaf and disguise distinguishing features by, for instance, painting hieroglyphics black. "You ended up with a piece that looked like something out of a bazaar," Mr Perry said.

On the journey home, some days later, Mr Tokeley-Parry told him that they should ignore each other and they sat in separate parts of the plane for the duration of the return flight. Mr Perry was told, if questioned by customs, to say he had bought the pieces at a bazaar.

The court was told that Mr Perry subsequently made a succession of trips for Mr Tokeley-Parry between 1992-93, collecting antiquities to be disguised and sold back in England.

Mr Dodgson said the fact that the goods were stolen in Egypt did not matter to this court. "There is no doubt that the items were stolen. They belonged to the state of Egypt and therefore they are stolen goods," he said.

The case, which is expected to last six weeks, continues today.

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