CAIRO A 3,000-year-old painted coffin smuggled out of Egypt more than a century ago will be returned after U.S. customs inspectors intercepted it in transit, Egypt's culture ministry said on Monday.
The coffin, described as one of the "most beautiful plastered and painted" pieces found in Egypt, was seized by customs officials upon its arrival at a Florida airport in October 2008, the ministry said in a statement.
An antiquities dealer named as Felix Cerera did not have ownership documents for it, prompting customs officials to suspect smuggling, the statement said.
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found the coffin had been smuggled out of Egypt in 1884 and had been exhibited in Madrid in 2007. Egypt requested its return in 2009.
The coffin, carved to resemble a recipient identified as "Imsey," is painted with images and religious inscriptions meant to aid the soul on its journey through the afterlife.
Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, will travel to Washington on March 10 to retrieve the relic, the ministry said.
Hawass said he has managed to repatriate 5,000 artifacts to Egypt in the past eight years.
(Writing by Marwa Awad; Editing by Michael Roddy)