Hobby Lobby To Pay $3 Million Fine For Acquiring Ancient Artifacts Reportedly Believed To Be Stolen
Photo: DangApricot (Wikimedia)
Hobby Lobby, a champion of "religious freedom" (aka a thinly veiled license to discriminate against LGBT persons in the workplace), will pay a fine of $3 million dollars as a part of a settlement with the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.
In addition to the fine, the arts and crafts store will have to return a number of ancient artifacts, some religious, that were reportedly believed stolen from Iraq.
Said the company in a statement:
"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 President Steve Green said in the statement. "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."
Hobby Lobby says it's cooperating with investigations proceedings.
In the summer of 2010, Green brought along an expert on a trip to the United Arab Emirates, to help him inspect the items he would eventually acquire.
Said the Department of Justice:
"In October 2010, an expert on cultural property law retained by Hobby Lobby warned the company that the acquisition of cultural property likely from Iraq, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, carries a risk that such objects may have been looted from archeological sites in Iraq."
"The expert also advised Hobby Lobby to review its collection of antiquities for any objects of Iraqi origin and to verify that their country of origin was properly declared at the time of importation into the United States. "
The expert reportedly warned Hobby Lobby that the improper declaration of country of origin could lead to artifacts being seized by Customs and Border Protection, says the DOJ.
Despite the warnings from the cultural property law expert, Hobby Lobby went forward with a deal to buy 5,548 artifacts for $1.6 million in December 2010, a deal "fraught with red flags," the DOJ said.
"The protection of cultural heritage is a mission that Homeland Security Investigations and its partner US Customs and Border Protection take very seriously as we recognize that while some may put a price on these artifacts, the people of Iraq consider them priceless," said Angel Melendez, special agent in charge, who led the investigation with the United States Attorney's Office.
As a result of the investigation, Hobby Lobby has pledged to set up policies on the buying of cultural property, provide necessary training to its personnel, hire qualified outside customs counsel and customs brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property it buys for the next eighteen months, according to the DOJ.
Yesterday, Angel M. Melendez, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent, issued a statement, saying:
“While some may put a price on these artifacts, the people of Iraq consider them priceless.”