Hobby Lobby Stores has agreed to pay a $3 million federal fine and forfeit thousands of ancient Iraqi religious artifacts smuggled from the Middle East. According to the Associated Press, federal prosecutors alleged the artifacts were intentionally mislabeled for import.
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 President Steve Green is the owner of one of the largest collections of religious artifacts in the world and is building a Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., due to open in the fall.
A dealer based in the United Arab Emirates shipped packages containing the artifacts to three different corporate addresses in Oklahoma City. Five shipments that were intercepted by U.S. customs officials bore shipping labels that falsely declared that the artifacts’ country of origin was Turkey.
Green said in a statement that the company cooperated with the government and “should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled.” Hobby Lobby has agreed to adopt internal policies for importing cultural property and training its personnel.
Buying looted items creates problems when it comes to verifying their authenticity as well as their ownership. Green’s Museum of the Bible may turn out to be a fundamentalist fabulist’s creation akin to Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter. Surely the man behind this project is aware of the 10 Commandments, which include “thou shall not steal” and “thou shall not bear false witness.”