Smuggled Hobby Lobby artifacts to be returned to Iraq today

Hobby Lobby

This photograph shows the result of looting at Angkorian temples in Cambodia (not related to Hobby Lobby case). Image by Tess Davis. Courtesy of The Antiquities Coalition

WASHINGTON — Nearly 4,000 smuggled artifacts previously purchased by national retailer Hobby Lobby will be returned to Iraq today in a ceremony at the residence of Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Fareed Yasseen. Assistant Secretary Thomas Homan, Director of US Customs and Immigration Enforcement, will transfer custody of the artifacts, including cuneiform tablets and bricks and cylinder seals from ancient Sumerian sites. The Antiquities Coalition will attend the ceremony.

Hobby Lobby, a national chain of arts and crafts stores, purchased thousands of antiquities which, unbeknownst to them, were smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law. The artifacts had been purchased from dealers and were supposed to become part of the permanent collection in a Bible museum Hobby Lobby opened in Washington. The items had been falsely identified on exportation documents as “samples” or “ceramics.”

In a settlement reached in cooperation with ICE and the Justice Department, Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million.

“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said in a 2017 statement. “Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, and with the announcement of today’s settlement agreement, is pleased the matter has been resolved.”

The Hobby Lobby case highlights the large US market for looted antiquities. This market fuels the international crisis of cultural racketeering — the looting and trafficking of ancient artifacts to fund terrorist crime and conflict, which threatens world heritage and national security.

The not-for-profit Antiquities Coalition is fighting cultural racketeering with consumer education and its #BuyerBeware awareness campaign.

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The Antiquities Coalition unites a diverse group of experts in the fight against cultural racketeering: the illicit trade in antiquities by organized criminals and terrorist organizations. This plunder for profit funds crime and conflict around the world—erasing our past and threatening our future. The Coalition’s innovative and practical solutions tackle crimes against heritage head on, empowering communities and countries in crisis.

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