LONDON, UK – A Belgian art dealer held for years under house arrest in China for smuggling antiques has died of a heart attack, Belgium’s Foreign Ministry says.
Kurt de Raedemaeker, a 48-year-old Sinologist, died in a Beijing hotel three weeks ago, a spokesman for the Ministry said Friday.
Raedemaeker was arrested at the capital’s airport in 2006 and convicted two years later by a court in the western province of Gansu of illegally exporting an ancient sarcophagus.
Raedemaeker denied any wrongdoing. He was initially detained in Gansu but later permitted to live with his partner in a hotel due to his poor health, according to the Associated Press.
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Belgian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Joren Vandeweyer said Friday: “Belgium tried everything, even at the ministerial level, to bring him home. We asked for his repatriation for humanitarian reasons, but unfortunately it did not succeed,” the Agence France reports.
Last year former Belgian ambassador to China Claire Kirschen described his punishment as a “slow death sentence.”
A spokesman said Friday that the body of Raedemaekerm, who was known to have heart difficulties before he died, had been transported back to Belgium for burial.
Raedemaeker bought the sarcophagus, reportedly valued at $1.2 million, in Beijing in 2003 and sold it on to a US citizen later that year.
He insisted the transaction was legal and that he had secured the necessary permits for the deal, but the Chinese authorities said the sarcophagus was a national treasure and demanded its return, according to the BBC.
It is currently on loan to the Guimet Museum in Paris.
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