HOBBY LOBBY FINED $3M BY U.S. OVER IRAQI AR­TI­FACTS

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - — The As­so­ci­ated Press

OK­LA­HOMA CITY» Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors say Hobby Lobby Stores has agreed to pay a $3 mil­lion fed­eral fine and for­feit thou­sands of an­cient Iraqi ar­ti­facts smug­gled from the Mid­dle East that the govern­ment al­leges were in­ten­tion­ally mis­labled.

Pros­e­cu­tors filed a civil com­plaint in New York on Wed­nes­day in which Ok­la­homa City-based Hobby Lobby con­sented to the fine and for­fei­ture of thou­sands of tablets and bricks writ­ten in cu­nei­form, one of the ear­li­est sys­tems of writ­ing, as well as other ar­ti­facts that pros­e­cu­tors say were shipped with­out proper doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Hobby Lobby ex­e­cuted an agree­ment to pur­chase over 5,500 ar­ti­facts in De­cem­ber 2010 for $1.6 mil­lion. Pros­e­cu­tors say ac­qui­si­tion of the ar­ti­facts “was fraught with red flags” and that pack­ages bore ship­ping la­bels that de­scribed their con­tents as “ce­ramic tiles.”

A dealer based in the United Arab Emi­rates shipped pack­ages con­tain­ing the ar­ti­facts to three cor­po­rate ad­dresses in Ok­la­homa City. Five ship­ments that were in­ter­cepted by fed­eral cus­toms of­fi­cials bore ship­ping la­bels that falsely de­clared that the ar­ti­facts’ coun­try of ori­gin was Turkey.

In Septem­ber 2011, a pack­age con­tain­ing about 1,000 clay bul­lae, an an­cient form of in­scribed iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, was re­ceived by Hobby Lobby from an Is­raeli dealer and ac­com­pa­nied by a false dec­la­ra­tion stat­ing that its coun­try of ori­gin was Is­rael.

Pros­e­cu­tors say Hobby Lobby has agreed to adopt in­ter­nal poli­cies for im­port­ing cul­tural prop­erty and train­ing its per­son­nel.

In a state­ment, Hobby Lobby Pres­i­dent Steve Green says the com­pany co­op­er­ated with the govern­ment and “should have ex­er­cised more over­sight and care­fully ques­tioned how the ac­qui­si­tions were han­dled.”

Green said Hobby Lobby be­gan ac­quir­ing a va­ri­ety of his­tor­i­cal Bi­bles and other ar­ti­facts in 2009.

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