Twenty-five other members of the gang, including nine foreigners, were sentenced by the Cairo criminal court on Thursday from one to 20 years in jail, although some were tried in absentia and are on the run.

The longest sentence was handed down to Tariq Suissi, a businessman and senior official with the National Democratic Party, who was arrested in April and expelled from the ruling party.

He was convicted of stealing, hiding and smuggling precious artefacts from the pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic Christian periods to Switzerland and France, as well as bribing officials and falsifying documents.

He was also convicted of possessing drugs and weapons and money laundering, and further fined several million Egyptian pounds.

Prosecutors had said stolen artefacts were found in Suissi's luxury villa in a Cairo suburb, which prompted a broader investigation.

Among the other defendants were a senior customs official who received 20 years in prison.

Foreigners convicted

Eighteen others - including nine people from Switzerland, Germany, Kenya and Lebanon who were all tried in absentia - were each sentenced to 15 years. The other six received between one and 12 years.

Four of the Egyptians were also tried in absentia.

Among other Egyptians tried were customs officials, two police colonels and officials with the Supreme Council of Antiquities from the southern temple city region of Luxor.

Swiss authorities have informed Egypt they will return to Egypt some 300 artefacts, including statues, masks, and two mummies they found in a warehouse in the free zone at Geneva Airport, the prosecutor had said.