French tourist jailed in Egypt after souvenir mistaken for 4500-year-old antiquity

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A dream trip to Egypt ended up a nightmare for one French tourist after she was falsely accused of trying to smuggle an antiquity home as a souvenir.

Nathalie was suspected over a statue she had purchased from the shopping arcade of a luxury hotel.

The 56-year-old was arrested at Luxor airport and held in a police station for eight days.

She was then charged with possession and trafficking of antiquities.

French tourist wrongly accused of buying 4,500-year-old antiquity as a souvenir

After ten days of travelling in Egypt, Nathalie was due to fly home from Luxor airport. As part of security checks, her suitcases were x-rayed and customs staff spotted something curious.

It was a small statue which experts contacted by customs concluded was not a copy of an original but a 4,500-year-old antiquity.

The day before, Nathalie had bought the object in an art gallery at the Winter Palace Hotel for €250.

“I was very attracted by this object, a small character dressed in a loincloth, seated, holding his hands on his knees. I had no idea that he would not bring me luck,” she told French paper Le Figaro.

French tourist jailed in Egypt for souvenir bought in luxury hotel

The tourist, a lawyer, was suspected of trafficking antiquities and driven to the Luxor police station.

Here, her court-appointed lawyer reportedly explained to her that she was presumed guilty and should apologise to the police.

“It was very hard to see the extent to which he did not defend my interests,” says Nathalie, who was gaining an insight into the local judicial system.

The traveller was forced to sleep in a 10-metre square room along with 40 other arrestees.

Jean-François Rial, CEO of Voyageurs du Monde, the travel agency organising her trip, stepped in to help.

“In thirty years of presence in Egypt, we have never had to deal with this type of case, we have a very good network, and this helped us to improve the conditions of Nathalie’s detention in the following days, but it was very difficult to speed up the procedures, because state security had taken charge of the case,” Rial told French newspaper Le Figaro.

“State security is indifferent to these kinds of economic considerations, it does what it wants, and even Abdel Fattah al-Sissi [the Egyptian president] does not have complete control over them,” he added.

Two days later, Nathalie appeared before a French-speaking judge. To demonstrate that the statue was a copy, the gallery owner was called to give the address of the manufacturing workshop where similar models lined the shelves.

The judge declared the proceedings halted, but still didn’t give Nathalie a formal dismissal.

Eventually, the intervention of the French ambassador in Cairo, Éric Chevallier, ensured she was put on a plane to Paris.

Banned from entering Egypt for life

“From what I understand, I am banned from entering the country for life,” Nathalie told Le Figaro after the ordeal.

She does not intend to let the matter lie, however. Her lawyer says she will take action to have the ban lifted and receive formal recognition of the dismissal of the case.

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