Hobby Lobby Store smuggles 245 Iraqi religious artifacts to US

Hobby Lobby Store smuggles 245 Iraqi religious artifacts to US
Hobby Lobby Store smuggles 245 Iraqi religious artifacts to US

In a new chapter of the ongoing saga of Hobby Lobby’s smuggling of Iraqi religious artifacts, the arts and crafts emporium surrendered 245 objects to the US government, Newsweek magazine quoted court documents as saying.

Hobby Lobby Stores voluntarily turned over the artifacts to federal prosecutors in New York on January 17. This brings the total number of artifacts surrendered so far to 3,839. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. had previously agreed to turn over 5,500.

In July 2017, Hobby Lobby agreed to pay a $3 million fine for smuggling religious artifacts out of Iraq, including thousands of ancient cuneiform tablets deliberately mislabeled as tile samples.

The store's evangelical Christian owners spent $1.6 million on the artifacts in December of 2010, even after a cultural property law expert that the business itself had retained warned that such artifacts might have been looted and that without proper verification they could be seized by US Customs and Border Protection. 

Nevertheless, according to a press statement from the United States Justice Department, Hobby Lobby persisted:

The acquisition of the Artifacts was fraught with red flags. For example, Hobby Lobby received conflicting information where the Artifacts had been stored prior to the inspection in the UAE. Further, when the Artifacts were presented for inspection to Hobby Lobby’s president and consultant in July 2010, they were displayed informally. In addition, Hobby Lobby representatives had not met or communicated with the dealer who purportedly owned the Artifacts, nor did they pay him for the Artifacts. Rather, following instructions from another dealer, Hobby Lobby wired payment for the Artifacts to seven personal bank accounts held in the names of other individuals.

The artifacts themselves include around 450 ancient cuneiform tablets and around 3,000 clay bullae, or inscribed seals, according to court documents from the 2017 civil complaint. Cuneiform is among the world's oldest known systems of writing, believed to have originated in ancient Mesopotamia.

Hobby Lobby president Steve Green owns one of the largest collections of religious artifacts anywhere in the world, has been actively collecting various Middle Eastern antiquities since 2009.

He was recently responsible for the unveiling of a Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Some of the smuggled Iraqi artifacts would have been intended for that museum.

The federal government became suspicious of Green's collection in 2011, when US customs opened FedEx packages that had been declared as "'handmade [sic] clay tiles (sample)' manufactured in Turkey," according to the Justice Department.

Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publishing.

Last Modified: 01 19 2018 05:41 PM

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