Hobby Lobby has agreed to return thousands of Iraqi artifacts that had been mislabeled and smuggled into the United States.
According to federal prosecutors, Hobby Lobby purchased more than 5,500 artifacts, including clay tablets and blocks with ancient cuneiform writing in 2010 from an antiquities dealer in the United Arab Emirates. In 2011 the company obtained about 1,000 clay bullae, an ancient form of inscribed identification, from an Israeli dealer who falsely claimed the shipment originated from Israel.
The federal civil complaint said Hobby Lobby failed to heed the warning of a cultural property law expert who said the artifacts might have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq.
“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” said Hobby Lobby President, Steve Green. “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.”
“In 2009, Hobby Lobby began acquiring a variety of historical Bibles and other artifacts. The goals were to preserve these items for future generations, to provide broad access to scholars and students alike to study them, and to share the collection with the world in public institutions and museums.”
“The Company imprudently relied on dealers and shippers who, in hindsight, did not understand the correct way to document and ship these items. At no time did Hobby Lobby ever purchase items from dealers in Iraq or from anyone who indicated that they acquired items from that country. Hobby Lobby condemns such conduct and has always acted with the intent to protect ancient items of cultural and historical importance.”
The Department of Justice and Hobby Lobby have agreed to a settlement in which Hobby Lobby consented to the forfeiture of the artifacts and agreed to pay a fine of $3 million. Hobby Lobby further agreed to adopt internal policies and procedures governing its importation and purchase of cultural property, provide appropriate training to its personnel, hire qualified outside customs counsel and customs brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property acquisitions for the next eighteen months.
In 2010 Green began construction of the eight-story, $500 million Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. The museum, which is scheduled to open in November, houses Green’s collection of tens of thousands of biblical artifacts.