The U.S. government sued Hobby Lobby for smuggling biblical artifacts from modern day Iraq and the company now must shell out $3 million to settle the civil action and get rid of thousands of artifacts.
According to court documents, Hobby Lobby bought the artifacts from a Middle Eastern supplier who falsely labeled them as “samples” and “ceramics”. The shipments included ancient cuneiform tablets which were smuggled into the U.S. through Hobby Lobby’s Israeli and United Arab Emirates suppliers.
Cuneiform is a system of writing imprinted on clay tablets archeologists found in Mesopotamia, which corresponds to modern-day Iraq and Kuwait.
The dealers falsely labeled the merchandize and illegally shipped it to the company’s stores and a couple of its U.S. offices, the Department of Justice found. On Wednesday, the retailer agreed to settle with the U.S. government for $3 million.
Hobby Lobby wrote in a statement that it began acquiring biblical artifacts and ancient Bibles in 2009. Now, the collection of ancient books and artifacts grew to thousands of items. “[The collection] is consistent with the company’s mission and passion for the Bible,” the Oklahoma-based company added.
Hobby Lobby Has Been Warned
The president of the company Steve Green acknowledged that the firm should have exercised more oversight over the way dealers handled the merchandise. Green added that the arts and crafts retailer is pleased with this Wednesday’s settlement.
The DOJ found that Green and an expert took a trip to the United Arab Emirates seven years ago to see what was for sale. Three months later, an expert warned the company that such rare artifacts like cylinder seals and cuneiform tablets could have been stolen from Iraqi archaeological sites.
The DOJ found that that expert advised the firm to verify if the country of origin of those objects was declared before entering the U.S. The expert added that wrongfully labeling the artifacts could up the risk for them to being seized by U.S. authorities.
Despite the warning, the company bought more than 5,500 ancient artifacts for $1.6 million in late 2010.
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