Friday, 31 July 2015

HSI Press Release Stupidity in Ohio

Proof positive that there is something very wrong with the US education system (at least in Ohio). I think an investigation is called for - is the anonymous individual who wrote a recent press release simply cognitively challenged, or working for the coin dealers ('ICE, CBP seize illegally imported ancient Roman coins 24th July 2015)? A declaration of interest seems to be in order here.

The guardians of US border propriety  (ICE and HSI) apparently miss a lot crossing US borders, but earlier this month they spotted some suspicious round things and seized them. They turned out to be "ancient Roman coins [...] [of] an estimated value of approximately $1,000". All well and good. The bit of the text as written that will have the coineys jumping up and down excitedly is the justification given in the press release: 
One hundred and ninety ancient Roman coins that were illegally imported into the United States from the United Arab Emirates were seized [...] The ancient coins were originally detained in early July during a routine inspection at the Port of Cincinnati cargo facility by CBP officers before the investigation was turned over to HSI. The intended recipient told investigators the coins were of Middle Eastern origin based on information received from an overseas seller. CBP officers contacted a coin expert to authenticate the coin’s origins and learned they were actually late 2nd or 3rd century Roman coins. Authorities subsequently issued a seizure notice to the intended recipient alleging entry of goods by means of false statements. The intended recipient abandoned the claim to the coins, which will now be repatriated to Italian authorities at a later date
What? What is the matter with America?  A few weeks ago the rest of us were laughing at the coineys who were sending comments to the CPAC because some cynical manipulator had convinced the hard-of-thinking among them that the Italian government "might claim all imperial coins minted and found everywhere as their national property". The idea was absurd, but gullible xenophobic coineys unreflexively swallowed it, provoking Schadenfreud among the rest of us. Ha ha, stoopid coin fondlers.

Then this. It really does look written to order, doesn't it? This is why I think its author needs investigating. The coins were imported from the United Arab Emirates. They were reportedly seized because falsely declared. The buyer says he was told they were from "the Middle East". So according to this report they were seized. There is something missing in this story. What were they declared as, the dodgy 'metal stampings' for example?

Middle East (green) and Roman Empire (red) overlap
clearly visible even to dunces on readily available resources (wikipedia)
For all of my European prejudices concerning the US, the behaviour of some of its citizens, its administration and judiciary, I refuse to believe that the forfeiture documents really do state that the coins were "falsely declared" because "Roman coins cannot be found in the Middle East". Not even in Ohio. Those of us who went to proper schools (and those who can use wikipedia too) know that the area considered the Middle East in American usage overlaps quite considerably with the eastern part of the Roman Empire in the second and third centuries. There is no reason why "ancient Roman coins" cannot have been found on sites in the western parts of the region known as 'the Middle East'.

Yet this is how the ICE reporter is presenting it. Does nobody proofread these press releases?

Then we have the crucial next bit. "The intended recipient abandoned the claim to the coins, which will now be repatriated to Italian authorities at a later date". Wait a second, what "recipient"? The correct technical term is "buyer" and "importer". Mr 'Ohiocoinbuyer' bought coins from a UAE source and the latter shipped them to him making a false declaration, in other words smuggled the coins out of UAE (so, see below). But Ohiocoinbuyer should be investigated as a potential accessory to the offence.

There are two points here. This matter was triumphantly gottcha-announced by ACCG attorney Peter Tompa, when - if the story he reports is an accurate reflection of the extra-legal case presented by ICE/HSI - the Ohio buyer should have been offered by the ACCG ("preserving our right to collect")  support  in fighting this forfeiture case through the US courts as a test case.  This would be a damn sight more useful than the Baltimore illegal coin import stunt on which the ACCG has wasted so much time and money on. Yet the idea never came to them, it seems. Or perhaps they know something about this case which differs from the way it is presented here.

Of course, as usual, in order to avoid transparency, no names are named. 'Ohiocoinbuyer' has not been convicted, so is innocent. Why can the innocent victim of an innocent ICE/HSI misunderstanding not be named so we may all sympathise with his plight? He's lost a thousand dollars at least from this.

Which seller in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai again?) is selling Roman coins in job lots? Which coin collector or dealer in the Ohio region is buying them?

As for the claim that "the coins [...] will now be repatriated to Italian authorities at a later date", if this is true, it reveals not only the US fixation with merely gracefully gifting foreign nations their own cultural property at the expense of investigating and prosecuting the culture crimes which brought it to the US. It also reveals a total disregard for the law, and that US authorities really are as stupid as the coin dealers claim. Unbelievable. The Roman Empire was a big place, modern Italy is only a small part of it.

The obligation of the US is to assure the products of crime are restituted to where the crime was committed. They have the name of the UAE seller who allegedly smuggled the coins to the US, the coins should go to the UAE authorities as evidence and the alleged seller and smuggler should be investigated and, if found to have committed an offence, prosecuted. When completed, the UAE investigation should lead to the repatriation of the artefacts to where they originally came from (for they were not dug up in Dubai). This is the job of the Saudi authorities, not the US acting as world policeman and generous benefactor. The coins are not in the remit of the US authorities to give away to anyone. They are evidence of transnational crime, and it seems pretty obvious to everybody except, it seems HSI, that we need to get tough on transnational crime.

36 coins artistically photographed on a blue background (HSI)
In any case, as a comment on Peter Tompa's blog makes clear, the "experts" which HSI employed appear not to have done a very thorough job of reporting on the seized items. As coiney Duncan Finch points out:
if you look at the terrible photo and at the second row of six legible photos from the top, you will see a very small coin. It is of the so-called Persecution Issue and shows the Tyche of Antioch, and was only struck in Antioch [on the Orontes PMB]. Thus, not Italian, Turkish because while Antioch was the capital of Roman Syria, it is now in Turkey. Maybe that is why they don't have legible photos...
[here is another example of the coin to which he refers, a civic issue of the time of Maximinus II. AD 310-313]. Tompa missed a stroke when suggesting Finch forwards that observation "to the numismatic press" - without realising that his comment reveals the hollowness of the ACCG's "first found argument". Certainly though, a coin of Antioch on the Orontes bought in UAE is far more likely to have been dug up in the eastern parts of the former Roman empire than in its western or central provinces. So why the HSI officers in Ohio want to send it to Italy is a mystery to us all, and certainly open to challenge. Why do the ACCG not institute at least an FOI on this case?

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