French ‘smuggler’ denies being on the run
PARIS, Oct 27 (AFP) - A Frenchman accused of smuggling antiquities out of Egypt on Tuesday denied he was on the run, two days after his trial resumed in Alexandria in his absence.
His lawyer had said Sunday his whereabouts are unknown.
“I’m in Cairo,” Stephane Rousseau, 43, told public France 2 television in a telephone interview late Tuesday.
He had been arrested at Cairo airport in August 2003 after customs officers found several terracotta figurines and 158 coins in his luggage, and went on trial in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria in March.
Prosecutors charge that the items were antiquities whose export was banned under a 1983 law against smuggling, but the defence insists they were cheap copies that Rousseau picked up in curio shops.
He was freed on an USD 800 bail in May after eight months in detention, but his passport was seized by the Egyptian authorities who slapped him with a travel ban.
His last known address was at Alexandria’s Union Hotel but his lawyer Samira Sufian said the Frenchman was reported to have checked out several weeks ago.
“He sent an email to his family a month ago in which he seemed delirious, which was very worrying, and since then nothing,” Sufian told AFP.
“Since last June, Rousseau had refused any contact with his defence and was suspicious of his own family because he was afraid of being thrown back into jail. He had stopped answering his emails,” she said.
But in the interview with France 2, Rousseau said, “I’m not on the run (…) My lawyers told me that I shouldn’t bother attending” the trial.
The French embassy in Cairo has refused to comment on the fate of the Frenchman, who before his arrest had a job making sketches for a French archaeological team headed by Jean-Yves Empereur and working in Alexandria harbour.
On Sunday, the prosecution said it was examining a new expert report on the nature and value of the seized artefacts.
Rousseau’s defence had rejected an earlier report, arguing it had been drawn by the state’s antiquities department and not by independent experts.
Egypt’s supreme council of antiquities has been cracking down on smuggling rings in recent months. Hundreds of precious artefacts are thought to be spirited out of Egypt each year.
Sufian said the trial had been adjourned again Sunday in the absence of the defendant and would resume on December 29 this year.
Rousseau started coming on missions to Egypt in 1992.
The bounty seized when he tried to board a flight back to Paris in August 2003 included coins spanning several centuries, “ushabti” figurines which used to be buried with the dead during the antiquity, ancient Coptic lamps and other artefacts.
Empereur has in the past spoken out against Rousseau, accusing him of theft.
But Sufian argued that the Ushabti were replicas Rousseau bought at the Al-Gomaa market in Alexandria and that her client was deceived.
The exact origin of the antiquities Rousseau allegedly tried to smuggle out of Egypt remains unclear. The Frenchman, who is not an archaeologist, was never involved in the Alexandria excavations and is not believed to have had access to storage.
Subject: French News