DOJ sues Hobby Lobby for hoarding Iraq's antiquities

Marco Green
July 6, 2017

Green said that Hobby Lobby imported the artifacts as part of its "passion for the Bible".

The prosecutors said that Hobby Lobby had been warned by an expert in 2010 that the artifacts might very likely have been looted from Iraqi archaeological sites. Cuneiform refers to a historic system of writing displayed on clay tablets, which was commonly used in Mesopotamia.

"We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled", Green said, adding that the firm fully cooperated with the investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of NY.

"Further, when the Artifacts were presented for inspection to Hobby Lobby's president and consultant in July 2010, they were displayed informally". Iraq did not appear as a country of origin on the packages, which were labeled as tile "samples", not items of historical significance.

Purchases Hobby Lobby made through dealers from the United Arab Emirates and Israel were "fraught with red flags", the DOJ noted. The company didn't pay the dealer who supposedly owned the items, instead wiring $1.6 million in payment to the accounts of seven other individuals.

"In executing the stipulation of settlement, Hobby Lobby has accepted responsibility for its past conduct and agreed to take steps to remedy the deficiencies that resulted in its unlawful importation of the Artifacts", the Justice Department said.

Cuneiform Tablet
Click on image to enlarge

When the objects arrived at Hobby Lobby locations in the US, they bore labels that "falsely and misleadingly described their contents as "ceramic tiles" or 'clay tiles (sample).'" Eventually, customs authorities intercepted some of the shipments and the scheme fell apart.

Five of the shipments were intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in 2011.

"American collectors and importers must ensure compliance with laws and regulations that require truthful declarations to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, so that Customs officers are able to scrutinize cultural property crossing our borders and prevent the inappropriate entry of such property", Acting United States Attorney Rohde said in a statement.

The prosecutors indicated, however, that Hobby Lobby knew well that it could be stepping into legal quicksand.

Hobby Lobby is perhaps best known for its Supreme Court victory in a 2014 religious freedom case over contraception. CEO David Green built the collection for the Museum of the Bible, a 430,000 square feet facility scheduled to open in November.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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