A Brooklyn man was indicted for allegedly trying to smuggle hundreds of Egyptian artifacts stuffed inside dirty suitcases through JFK Airport — including some nearly 4,000-year-old relics, federal prosecutors announced Monday.
Ashraf Omar Eldarir, 47, was caught at the Queens airport in January allegedly carrying three suitcases filled with 590 antiquities covered in foam and bubble wrap, federal prosecutors said.
“These cultural treasures traveled across centuries and millennia, only to end up unceremoniously stuffed in a dirt-caked suitcase at JFK,” said Richard P. Donoghue, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
When US Customs and Border Protection agents opened the packages, sand and dirt spilled out, and some of the items smelled of wet earth, indicating that they had been recently dug-up, prosecutors alleged.
Among the relics were objects made to be buried in the funerary pyramids of Egyptian royalty, such as gold amulets and wooden tomb models — including one that dated back to around 1900 BCE, prosecutors claim.
There was also two funerary stelae, or stone monuments to the deceased, hailing from the Roman period, the feds claim.
Officials also found a portrait of a Ptolemaic king carved on a tablet, that had originally been part of a royal building or temple, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Eldarir did not have any of the required documentation from Egypt authorizing the export of the artifacts.
He is charged with one count of smuggling from this incident, and another stemming from an earlier trip in which he allegedly smuggled an ancient Egyptian polychrome relief.
“Eldarir’s alleged smuggling of 590 artifacts pillaged from Egypt is yet another example of an individual seeking to profit by stealing history from another nation,” said Homeland Security Investigation Special Agent-in-Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh.
If convicted, Eldarir faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail for each count. A date for his arraignment in Brooklyn federal court has not yet been set.
Eldarir’s attorney didn’t immediately return a request for comment.