ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Federal prosecutors have filed motions to seize an Egyptian mummy mask they believe was taken from Egypt illegally before it was bought by the St. Louis Art Museum.
The civil forfeiture documents filed Wednesday by the U.S. attorney's office in St. Louis also request a restraining order to prevent the museum from doing anything with the mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer while the issue is being decided in court, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The federal government has not accused the museum of being involved in the theft of the 20-inch long funeral mask. Its investigators suspect the mask was stolen sometime between 1966, when it was shipped to Cairo for an exhibit, and 1973, when the Egyptian Museum in Cairo discovered it missing. The government believes the mask was secreted out of Egypt and later bought by the museum.
The museum filed a civil lawsuit last month in federal court, trying to pre-empt the government's move to take the mask.
A museum spokeswoman referred calls to the museum's attorney David Linenbroker, who said Thursday he still was studying the government documents and would withhold comment until the museum filed its response.
Ka-Nefer-Nefer, an Egyptian noblewoman, lived about 3,200 years ago. The mask is made of painted and gilded plaster-coated linen over wood and has inlaid glass eyes.
It was excavated from one of the Saqqara pyramids, about 16 miles south of Cairo, in 1952. The art museum paid $499,000 when it bought the mask from a New York art dealer in 1998. The mask has been on display at the museum in Forest Park since then.
The museum has said it researched the mask's ownership history before buying it and had no indication there were questions about how it arrived in the U.S.
The museum's research showed the mask was part of the Kaloterna private collection during the 1960s, before a Croatian collector, Zuzi Jelinek, bought it in Switzerland and later sold it to Phoenix Ancient Art in 1995.
The museum also maintains in its lawsuit that the government's statute of limitations for seizing the mask has expired.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)