Egyptian treasures smuggler is jailed

James Mellor
Thursday 19 June 1997 00:02 BST

A leading art dealer, who smuggled priceless Egyptian artefacts into Britain by disguising them as cheap trinkets, was yesterday jailed for six years.

In a landmark case before a British court, Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, 46, of Winkleigh, Barnstaple, in Devon was found guilty on two counts, but was cleared of a third offence at Knightsbridge Crown Court.

Dressed in an open-necked shirt and blue jacket, he looked up and down at ceiling and floor as he was sentenced to six years for each of the handling charges and a further eight months for obtaining a passport by deception, each of the sentences to run concurrently.

The case was the third in which Tokeley-Parry had been involved this year. In February a trial was scrapped after a bizarre sequence of events in which Tokeley-Parry was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack, only to be diagnosed as suffering from mental exhaustion. He later transferred himself to a psychiatric unit in Devon where he tried to commit suicide by swallowing hemlock.

Just days later, Tokeley-Parry was convicted by an Egyptian court in his absence and sentenced to 15 years' hard labour. At the same trial, the star prosecution witness, Mark Perry, was sentenced to 10 years' hard labour if he ever set foot again in Egypt while several Egyptians involved in the smuggling ring were also found guilty.

After the jury returned their guilty verdict at the third trial, Judge Timothy Pontius, sentencing, said: "These two offences reflect dishonesty on a large, elaborate and sophisticated scale. You have deliberately prostituted your talent for wholly selfish reasons."

The dealer, a Cambridge philosophy graduate, was snared by Operation Bullrush, an investigation into the illegal smuggling of antiquities which experts believe is worth pounds 3bn each year, second only in value to drug smuggling.

Officers from Scotland Yard's arts and antiques squad, together with Egyptologists, discovered that Tokeley-Parry had masterminded a number of trips to Egypt when they raided his home in 1994.

Between June 1992 and December 1993 he had organised seven trips after recruiting Perry, 30, an odd-job man, as his pounds 500-per-trip courier.

Police had discovered his scheme when an expert in the British Museum's Egyptology department recognised the pieces, which he knew by law should have been in Egypt.

Tokeley-Parry's ingenious plot involved painting the 5,000-year-old artefacts, a bronze falcon figure of the god Horus and pieces from the ancient tomb of the Pharaohs' hairdresser, Hetepka, at the necropolis of Saqqara near Cairo, with a transparent plastic solution.

Once covered the pieces were dipped in gold lead, hieroglyphics were altered to give them the appearance of fakes, large pieces were cut up with a chainsaw and, in one case, the word Egypt was written on the antiquity.

Back in Britain, it was a simple operation to restore the works to their original and highly valuable appearance.

The court heard Tokeley-Parry's claim that he was "doing the Egyptians a favour" by removing their heritage even though Egypt had passed a law which labelled any goods not legally exported as stolen.

The trial has prompted calls for a re-examination of Britain's law in relation to the movement of antiquities. The eminent archaeologist, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, said: "The archaeological record of the world is being plundered and destroyed at an increasing rate. It has got to stop. British law has got to be strengthened so that it is an offence for antiquities stolen abroad to be openly sold in this country."

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