x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Man arrested over coins after row

A falling out between friends has led to the arrest of a Syrian man over the looting of dozens of old, rare and valuable coins, some dating back to the Roman Empire, from a small island in the emirate 20 years ago.

Some of the dozens of ancient coins that were recovered illegally from a small island off Abu Dhabi 20 years ago.
Some of the dozens of ancient coins that were recovered illegally from a small island off Abu Dhabi 20 years ago.

ABU DHABI // A falling out between friends has led to the arrest of a Syrian man over the looting of dozens of old, rare and valuable coins, some dating back to the Roman Empire, from a small island in the emirate 20 years ago. The antiquities were recovered illegally on Halat al Bahrani, two kilometres off Abu Dhabi, by a Swedish man who worked on an oil rig in the area. The Swedish man, identified by police as AGY, 66, then hid the coins with the Syrian, an investor identified as YHN, 69, said Col Hammad al Hammadi, the head of Abu Dhabi Police's Criminal Investigations Department.

The coins were minted in a variety of locales and eras, from what is now the UAE to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and Europe. The two men were childhood friends who moved to the UAE in 1975. After they fell out, the Swede filed a complaint over the missing coins with the UAE Embassy in Stockholm, which referred the case to the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), said Col Rashid bu Rashid, the head of the CID's organised crime division.

Adach alerted police, who arrested the Syrian. YHN, who was referred to the general prosecution, admitted to safekeeping the artefacts but denied knowing their origin. It was unclear whether the police would seek any legal action against the Swedish man. Col al Hammadi said the Government wanted the coins, calling them a "national treasure". kshaheen@thenational.ae