Hobby Lobby slapped with $3 million fine over smuggled artifacts

The craft-store chain imported Mesopotamian artifacts from Iraq as "ceramics," an accurate if misleading term for the thousands of cuneiform tablets and clay bullae smuggled in via the UAE.

Hobby Lobby

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2017 — The Department of Justice has imposed a $3 million fine on Hobby Lobby for illegal possession of thousands of ancient Iraqi artifacts. According to court documents the arts and craft supply store chain will surrender the artifacts and pay the fine to resolve the civil action brought forward by the Justice Department.

According to the Department of Justice, the cuneiform tablets and clay bullae from Iraq were smuggled into America via the United Arab Emirates and Israel. DOJ officials allege that Hobby Lobby falsely labeled the shipments as “ceramics” and “samples” and illegally shipped them to several stores and two corporate offices. Hobby Lobby President Steve Green released a statement in response to the settlement:

“In 2009, Hobby Lobby began acquiring a variety of historical Bibles and other artifacts. Developing a collection of historically and religiously important books and artifacts about the Bible is consistent with the company’s mission and passion for the Bible.

“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled … 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.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Rohde also released a statement:

“American collectors and importers must ensure compliance with laws and regulations that require truthful declarations to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, so that Customs officers are able to scrutinize cultural property crossing our borders and prevent the inappropriate entry of such property.

“If they do not, and shippers use false declarations to try to clandestinely enter property into the United States, this Office and our law enforcement partners will discover the deceit and seize the property.”

Hobby Lobby bought 5,548 artifacts for nearly $2 million, despite warnings from its legal experts. The firm will now create internal policies for importing cultural artifacts and properly train its personnel. They have said they received conflicting information about where they artifacts were originally stored before arriving in the UAE and never paid or met with the dealer in person. Green was instructed to wire the money to seven bank accounts of seven different individuals.

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