Visitors are seen in the Great Court after the British Museum reopened in London on December 3, 2020. LEHTIKUVA / AFP

International news

Hartwig Fischer, the director of the British Museum in London, has stepped down from his position following revelations of stolen artifacts from the museum's storeroom, as reported by Al Jazeera on Saturday.

The renowned museum, a prominent tourist attraction in London, had been alerted to the potential theft or disappearance of valuable artifacts over two years ago when an art historian raised concerns about items being offered for sale online.

According to the publication, the museum confirmed last week that a staff member had been dismissed after a collection of items, including gold jewelry and gems dating from the 15th century BC to the 19th century AD, were discovered missing from a storeroom.

The German art historian and museum director, who had been leading the institution since 2016, acknowledged that there could have been a more effective response to the indications of potential theft by an employee. He took responsibility for the shortcomings, stating, "It is evident that the British Museum did not respond as comprehensively as it should have." He emphasized that the ultimate responsibility for the lapse lies with the director.

Al Jazeera reported that police had interviewed an individual in connection with the case, although no charges had been filed against the unnamed man.

Initially, the British Museum announced that Fischer's resignation would be effective "immediately." However, those words were later removed, and it was clarified that Fischer would resign once an interim leader had been appointed.

Fischer retracted previous statements he made about an art dealer, Ittai Gradel, who initially alerted the museum about the stolen items. Fischer had claimed earlier in the week that Gradel had not fully disclosed the extent of the stolen items when notifying the museum. Fischer expressed "sincere regret" for the remarks, acknowledging their misjudgment.

The museum has also faced controversies related to its refusal to return items of historical significance to communities around the world. Many of these items were acquired or taken during the British Empire's era and colonial rule. Notable disputes include the marble carvings from Greece's Parthenon and the Benin bronzes from West Africa.