Egyptian god 'hidden in plastic carrier bag'

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A smuggling ring which plundered valuable Egyptian relics and sold them in England employed an influential Egyptian police officer, a court heard yesterday.

The officer, a general, was on call in case couriers ran into trouble taking the 5,000-year-old artefacts through Customs at Cairo airport, Knightsbridge Crown Court was told.

But former odd-job man Mark Perry, 30, who claims he was recruited to the illegal enterprise by art restorer Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, said the couriers were never stopped.

Mr Perry was giving evidence for the prosecution on the second day of a trial in which Mr Tokeley-Parry, 45, denies three counts of handling stolen antiquities.

The artefacts involved are a statue of the falcon god Horus, and pieces of a false door from the pyramid tombs of Hetepka and King Pepi. Both burial sites are situated in the Necropolis of Saqqara, near Cairo.

Mr Perry, who said he made seven all-expenses-paid trips to Egypt, told the court he remembered picking up the falcon figure from a Cairo shop owned by Mr Tokeley-Parry's "business partner", Ali Farrag: "I was told it was an important piece, worth a hell of a lot."

But he recalled that despite its value he simply put it into a plastic carrier bag and strolled through the bustling streets of Cairo, back to his hotel.

The rest of the items were smuggled out the same way, although he damaged one of the door pieces, much to Mr Tokeley-Parry's displeasure.

He was told his driver would watch him go through the airport. "Tokeley- Parry told me what would happen if there was a problem ... He said if I was stopped or had any problem going through, a general who I took was in the civilian police, would make sure we would be all right and got through. He would be contacted through Hassan," Mr Perry said.

The court has heard that before any of the treasures were smuggled out of Egypt they were disguised to look like "gaudy" tourist trinkets.

Mr Perry has said Mr Tokeley-Parry showed him how to cover the artefacts with a transparent plastic solution before applying gold lead.

Hieroglyphics were painted black to make the items look even less like the genuine article. On one limestone door relief the word "Egypt" was daubed across the bottom.

Paul Dodgson, prosecuting, has alleged that back in Britain the antiquities were dipped in acetone, an ingredient in nail polish remover, to restore them to their "former glory".

The case resumes today.