Home / World / Hobby Lobby fined $3 million over smuggled Iraqi artifacts – Washington Post

Hobby Lobby fined $3 million over smuggled Iraqi artifacts – Washington Post

By From news services,

Federal prosecutors say Hobby Lobby Stores has agreed to pay a $3 million federal fine and forfeit thousands of ancient Iraqi artifacts smuggled from the Middle East that the government alleges were intentionally mislabeled.

Prosecutors filed a civil complaint in New York on Wednesday in which Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby consented to the fine and forfeiture of thousands of tablets and bricks written in cuneiform, one of the earliest systems of writing, as well as other artifacts that prosecutors say were shipped without proper documentation.

Hobby Lobby executed an agreement to purchase over 5,500 artifacts in December 2010 for $1.6 million. Prosecutors say acquisition of the artifacts “was fraught with red flags” and that packages bore shipping labels that described their contents as “ceramic tiles.”

“The protection of cultural heritage is a mission that [Homeland Security Investigations] and its partner U.S. Customs and Border Protection take very seriously as we recognize that while some may put a price on these artifacts, the people of Iraq consider them priceless,” Angel Melendez, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York, said in the statement.

A dealer based in the United Arab Emirates shipped packages containing the artifacts to three different corporate addresses in Oklahoma City. Five shipments that were intercepted by federal customs officials bore shipping labels that falsely declared that the artifacts’ country of origin was Turkey.

In September 2011, a package containing about 1,000 clay bullae, an ancient form of inscribed identification, was received by Hobby Lobby from an Israeli dealer and accompanied by a false declaration stating that its country of origin was Israel.

Prosecutors say Hobby Lobby has agreed to adopt internal policies for importing cultural property and training its personnel.

Prosecutors say that Hobby Lobby began assembling a collection of historically significant manuscripts, antiquities and other cultural materials in 2009.

During the following year, an expert on cultural property law retained by Hobby Lobby cautioned company executives that artifacts from Iraq could have been looted from archaeological sites, advising the company to verify that those being sold had been obtained legally.

In a statement, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said the company cooperated with the government and “should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled.”

“Our passion for the Bible continues, and we will do all that we can to support the efforts to conserve items that will help illuminate and enhance our understanding of this Great Book,” Green said.

Green is the chairman and founder of the Museum of the Bible, which is under construction in Washington, D.C.

Source: world

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