Hobby Lobby Returned Thousands of Stolen Artifacts

By Mike Kalasnik from Fort Mill, USA (Wal-Mart Hoover, ALUploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Approximately 3,800 artifacts were stolen from Iraq.

The U.S. Justice Department announced thousands of priceless artifacts of Iraqi origin which were stolen and smuggled out of the country have been sent back to Iraq. This unauthorized import into the United States from Iraq was made possible by false labels like identifying historical pieces as “tile samples.” As per U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the importer was Hobby Lobby, the United States retailer.

Such events came to pass after the Justice Department and ICE brought a civil action in 2017 against Hobby Lobby. Both of them said the company had been the recipient of thousands of Iraqi artifacts from a supplier based in the United Arab Emirates. The American company consented in July to give up the artifacts. As per the deal, it must also pay $3 million dollars to resolve the problem.

ICE sent back to Iraq about 3,800 ancient artifacts. The list included clay bullae, cuneiform tablets, and cylinder seals. Thomas Homan, the Acting Director of ICE, warned that U.S. authorities like his organization will work in tandem to prevent any loot of antiquities. Any person who tries to profit from such crimes will be held accountable. He added that the return of such artifacts should serve as a powerful reminder that everybody is under the law.

Hobby Lobby company executives claimed they had no inkling the artifacts were stolen. They pointed out that all the acquired artifacts were bought during the company's attempts to buy Iraqi antiquities by legal means.

Prosecutors disagree. They argued that Hobby Lobby's own antiquities expert warned them that buying Iraqi artifacts carried a substantial amount of risk due to the chance of stolen artifacts infiltrating legal trade. Steve Green, the Hobby Lobby President, told the media in 2017 that the company tries to locate the best experts when it acquires antiquities. He admitted that mistakes had been made. The company learned from the mistakes and put procedures and processes to improve on that.

Most of the returned artifacts were from Irisagrig, the “lost city” which contained priceless artifacts. The artifacts were formally handed over to Fareed Yasseen, the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States. He termed the repatriation as “historic justice” and gave his thanks to federal agents responsible for recovering smuggled antiquities. The Ambassador described such antiquities as part of his country's soul. He said Iraqis remember for a long time. They have a kinship with such artifacts.

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