American retailer to return smuggled Iraqi artifacts, pay fine
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – US-based arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby has agreed to pay three million dollars to settle a federal case for smuggling Iraqi artifacts in 2010.
The retailer also agreed to return thousands of clay antiques it bought, a purchase that prosecutors said was “fraught with red flags” the company ignored.
In a statement, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green acknowledged "regrettable mistakes" that he chalked up to inexperience.
"We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled," Green said.
The items were purchased as part of a $500 million Museum of the Bible, the family that owns the company is bankrolling.
Green said Hobby Lobby didn't know the items were from Iraq as the artifacts were shipped without proper documentation, with labels that described them as “ceramic tiles” or “samples” from Turkey or Israel.
A consultant had traveled with Green to the United Arab Emirates to inspect cuneiform tablets and clay bullae that were thousands of years old and "advised Hobby Lobby to review its collection of antiquities for any objects of Iraqi origin and to verify their country of origin," according to the Department of Justice.
In total, Hobby Lobby purchased 5,500 artifacts and illegally shipped them to several of its stores as well as two corporate offices.
"The protection of cultural heritage is a mission that Homeland Security Investigations and its partner US 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," investigator in charge with the US State Attorney’s Office Angel Melendez said in a statement,
Editing by Ava Homa