The crown is thought to be one of only 20 in existence and remained hidden in a Dutch flat for two decades.
Thursday 20 February 2020 14:00, UK
An Ethiopian crown from the 18th century has been returned to its home country after being hidden in a flat in the Netherlands for two decades.
Ethiopian Sirak Asfaw, who fled to the Dutch port city of Rotterdam as a political refugee in the late 1970s, discovered the crown in a visitor’s suitcase in 1998 and realised it was stolen.
He protected it until he thought it was safe to return the crown to Ethiopian authorities.
Last year he contacted independent Dutch art crimes investigator Arthur Brand – known as the “Indiana Jones of the art world” – who placed the crown in a high-security art facility in the Netherlands and alerted the police.
On Thursday the crown was received by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his role in ending two decades of conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.
In a tweet he said he was grateful to Mr Asfaw and the Netherlands government for facilitating the return of the “precious crown stolen several years ago”.
It went missing in 1993 and is thought to be one of only 20 in existence.
The crown features depictions of Jesus Christ, God and the Holy Spirit, along with Jesus’ disciples.
“This is a historic day for us,” said Hirut Kassaw, Ethiopia’s minister for culture and tourism.
“I still don’t know how this crown and the other items were looted and taken out of Ethiopia.”
The Dutch government said the crown was the property of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
It said the crown went missing from the Holy Trinity Church in the village of Cheleqot.
The crown is on display at Ethiopia’s national museum in the capital Addis Ababa for a few days and will then be returned to the church.
The Dutch minister for foreign trade, Sigrid Kaag, attended the handover ceremony.
“We’re honoured and delighted to have been able to facilitate the rightful return,” she said.