Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hobby Lobby to return smuggled Iraqi artifacts, pay $3 million fine


Arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby has agreed to hand over thousands of illicit Iraqi artifacts and pay $3 million to settle a civil forfeiture action brought by the Department of Justice, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday. The crafts retailer began to collect “historically significant manuscripts, antiquities and other cultural materials” around 2009, according to prosecutors. In October 2010, a lawyer warned Hobby Lobby that “the acquisition of cultural property likely from Iraq, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, carries a risk that such objects may have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq,” the feds said. But just a couple months later, Hobby Lobby agreed to buy over 5,500 ancient artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, clay bullae and cylinder seals, for $1.6 million — even though the purchase was “fraught with red flags.” The packages were sent to three corporate addresses in Oklahoma City with misleading shipping labels that described them as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample),” the feds said. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the items were from the area of modern-day Iraq and had been smuggled into the country through the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

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