The US Justice department has filed an action against Hobby Lobby for importing ancient artifacts from Iraq — artifacts that not only represent the most precious of the country’s heritage, but which are smuggled and sold to fund the Islamic State’s terror activities. According to a press release:
As alleged in the complaint, these ancient clay artifacts originated in the area of modern-day Iraq and were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, contrary to federal law. Packages containing the artifacts were shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (“Hobby Lobby”), a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and two of Hobby Lobby’s corporate affiliates. The shipping labels on these packages falsely described cuneiform tablets as tile “samples.
As I’ve written before, while the numbers are not huge, ISIS, Al Qaeda and others frequently use the sale of these treasures to fund their activities, mostly in order to purchase weapons. As Vanity Fair also reported in 2015, when the investigation into the activities of Hobby Lobby’s CEO, Steve Green, came to light (thanks to reporting in the Daily Beast),
The four-year investigation involves nearly 300 “small clay tablets” from what’s now modern-day Iraq and Syria, bound for the Museum of the Bible, a multi-million-dollar complex in Washington, D.C. and scheduled to open in 2017, largely financed by the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby and is worth an estimated $4.5 billion. But when the family tried to get the collections through U.S. Customs—having declared them, according to the Daily Beast, as “hand-crafted clay tiles” worth a collective $300—their actions triggered an F.B.I. inquiry.
Moreover, in October, 2010, Green was advised by an expert to “review its collection of antiquities for objects of Iraqi origin” and ensure they were properly declared at import. “The expert warned Hobby Lobby that an improper declaration of country of origin for cultural property could lead to seizure and forfeiture of the artifacts,” according to the Justice Department release.
And yet just two months later, Hobby Lobby “executed an agreement to purchase over 5,500 artifacts…. for $1.6 million.”
The file makes for important and fascinating reading. And let it stand as a warning to others.
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