US investigates National Geographic over ‘corrupt payments’ to Egypt’s keeper of antiquities

National Geographic may be facing an unexpected challenge to its reputation as one of the world’s most respected educational and scientific institutions amid reports that it is under investigation in the United States over its ties to a former Egyptian official who for years held the keys to his country’s many popular antiquities.

At issue is whether the Washington-based organisation, which in recent years has rapidly extended its public reach beyond its well-known glossy magazine to a cable television channel and other enterprises, violated strict US laws on payments to officials of foreign governments in contracts starting in 2001 with Dr Zahi Hawass, who, until the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, was the government’s sole gatekeeper to all things ancient Egypt.

For a decade, Dr Hawass seemingly played a critical role in giving National Geographic constant access to the antiquities, including the pyramids and Tutankhamun treasures which because of their popularity with the public became a lynchpin of its expansion. Fees for those services, which according to the Vocativ news web site ranged from $80,000 (£50,000) to $200,000 a year, could be interpreted under US law as illegal bribes.

The Justice Department declined to confirm the investigation. “As a matter of long-standing policy, we generally do not confirm nor deny whether a matter is under investigation,” Peter Carr, a spokesman with the Justice Department Criminal Division, told The Independent.

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