The curse of the mummy strikes again!
A group of Egyptian antiquities dealers have been charged with illegally smuggling ancient funerary objects into the U.S., authorities said Thursday.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn say Mousa “Morris” Khouli, the owner of Windsor Antiques in Manhattan, conspired with dealers in Michigan and Dubai to smuggle sarcophagi and other artifacts for a collector in Virginia.
Khouli, 37, is charged with trying to dupe Customs officials by labeling shipments of coffins and other items as “antiques” and “wood panels,” prosecutors said.
He allegedly bought the items from Salem Alshdaifat, who runs Holyland Numismatics in West Bloomfield, Mich., and Ayman Ramadan, an antiquity dealers in the United Arab Emirates who helped him ship the items to the U.S.
Between October 2008 and November 2009, Khouli allegedly sold a Greco-Roman sarcophagus, Egyptian funerary boats and limestone figures to collector Joseph Lewis, 54, of Chesterfield, Va.
Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized the items during a search of Lewis’ house on July 13.
Other ancient coffins were recovered in 2009 at Port of Newark. Agents also recovered a sarcophagus in Khouli’s Brooklyn home, which he falsely claimed was part of his father’s collection and “that he had owned it for a long time,” court papers stated.
Federal prosecutors say Khouli purchased that coffin from Ramadan in 2009 and are seeking the forfeiture of all the items so they can be returned to Egypt.
“Antiquities dealers and collectors are on notice that the smuggling of cultural patrimony will not be tolerated,” said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.
ICE Special-Agent-in Charge James Hayes, Jr., called the investigation “ground-breaking.”
“It is the first time an alleged cultural property network has been dismantled within the United States,” Hayes said.
Khouli and Lewis pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court Thursday and were each released on $250,000 bail.
“We are studying the charges and…will begin preparing the defense to the allegations — both factual and legal,” Khouli’s lawyer Gerald Shargel said.
Alshdaifat was arraigned on Wednesday in Detroit Federal Court.