Germany rejected Monday a request from Egypt to return a 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, one of Berlin's top tourist attractions, saying it had not been a governmental request, DPA reported.
An aide to Chancellor Angela Merkel said the letter was not signed by the Egyptian prime minister or any cabinet member.
Bernd Neumann, state minister for culture, responded that Egypt had no legal claim to the bust, which was rightfully Germany's.
The letter to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which runs Berlin's Egyptian Museum, was signed by Zahi Hawas, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who ranks as a deputy culture minister.
This meant there was no official Egyptian request, said Neumann's spokesman Hagen Philipp Wolf. He said the foundation would be writing to Hawas under instructions from the German government. Nefertiti would be staying in Berlin, Wolf added.