Friday, 7 July 2017

Evidence of Consortium Hoarding looted Iraqi Artefacts

The significance of the Hobby Lobby smuggled antiquities bust cannot be overestimated. One of the issues it raises is the fate of the artefacts coming from Iraqi looting after the 1990s Sanctions and the 2003 US-led invasion.  The evidence produced by the  forfeiture complaint  (United States v. Approximately Four Hundred Fifty (450) Ancient Cuneiform Tablets and Approximately Three Thousand (3,000) Ancient Clay Bullae 17-CV-3980) sheds some light on this. On July 15, 2010, Steve Green and his historical material consultant
inspected a large number of cuneiform tablets and other artifacts being offered for sale in the United Arab Emirates [...]. Several antiquities dealers from Israel (hereinafter, “Israeli Dealer #1” and “Israeli Dealer #2”) as well as an antiquities dealer from the UAE [...] attended the July 2010 Inspection. The contemplated sale included 5,548 distinct artifacts: 1,500 cuneiform tablets, 500 cuneiform bricks, 3,000 clay bullae, 35 clay envelope seals, 13 extra-large cuneiform tablets and 500 stone cylinder seals. During the July 2010 Inspection, the artifacts were displayed informally – spread on the floor, arranged in layers on a coffee table, and packed loosely in cardboard boxes, in many instances with little or no protective material between them. Following the inspection, the Israeli dealers proposed a sale of a larger group of cultural objects that included approximately 5,548 individual pieces of cuneiform tablets, clay bullae, and cylinder seals (each an “Artifact” and together the “Artifacts”). [...] Israeli Dealer #1 sent Hobby Lobby a provenance statement from Israeli Dealer #3 for approximately 5,513 of the Artifacts (35 clay envelope seals were not included) (the “5,513 Artifacts”). The provenance statement indicated that the 5,513 Artifacts were “legally acquired in the late 1960s by [Israeli Dealer #3’s] father, from local markets.” 
So, seven years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, more than five and a half thousand artefacts were stashed outside the country and on offer. Where were they physically? In Israel? In the UAE (Dubai, maybe)?  Anyway, they've been given a convenient collecting history by dealer #3. Just to make that sound a bit better, an added detail emerged at the end of August 2010,

The provenance statement further indicated that the collection had been moved to the United States for storage in the 1970s, named the person storing the 5,513 Artifacts (the “Alleged Custodian”), and listed the Alleged Custodian’s address in Mississippi and telephone numbers. At no time did Hobby Lobby or any of its agents contact the Alleged Custodian to confirm the Alleged Custodian’s involvement with the 5,513 Artifacts. In fact, the Alleged Custodian first met Israeli Dealer #3 during a 2007 trip to Israel and did not store any material for Israeli Dealer #3. 

This is cute. Presumably Mr/Mrs "Alleged Custodian" had been instructed by the dealers back in 2010 to agree that they'd looked after these objects for the Israeli dealer's father. When the Feds came calling, he reneged on the deal. Who is Mississippi Alleged Custodian? Just to add artistic verisimilitude Hobby Lobby were additionally told by Israeli Dealers #1 and #2 that the Artifacts 'had been in Washington, D.C. and were shipped to the UAE for the July 2010 Inspection'. Why that had been done (when the objects were already in the US and now being sold to a collector from the US) was not explained. No documentary evidence of import into the US in the 1970s or removal from the US in or around 2010 seems to have been offered. If there had been any, this case would not be being discussed.

The crux of the matter was however:
The Consultant advised Hobby Lobby that the offering price for the Artifacts was $2,091,000.00 and that while he believed they could be appraised at $11,820,000, he believed Hobby Lobby could negotiate to purchase them for $1,600,000.00. 
As they say, beware of the deal that seems to be too good to be true - there is a catch. Mr Green did not see one. So he bought the cunies and other stuff and ended up facing a court case.

We may note that someone somewhere was hawking several thousand Iraqi artefacts in the middle of 2010 and involved in their sale was a consortium of three Israeli dealers and one from the United Arab Emirates. How did these objects leave Iraq? One wonders what the connection is between these clay artefacts  and another which turned up in Jerusalem a while later ['Sawn Off Iraqi Antiquities and Legitimate Questions about Jerusalem Antiquity Trade' PACHI Wednesday, 11 April 2012 - needless to say my legitimate questions only got abuse as an answer from the dealer concerned]. The same seller had clay artefacts from Isin two years before the 2010 Green sale ['Artefacts from Isin in clearance sale in Jerusalem?' PACHI  Tuesday, 30 December 2008]. This suggests that Israeli dealers have been involved in the movement of items out of Iraq in the period 2008-2012 at least. Now we find three of them in an organized consortium were clandestinely selling such items to at least one US collector in the middle of this period. They were however apparently put into contact with the collector by the dealer from UAE (I'm guessing 'Dubai'). 

These dealers were prevented from sending Mr Green a large number of items he has paid for, what will happen to them? Where will they surface if US authorities are not going to initiate proceedings against these four unnamed characters? Will Mr Green get his money back from them? 

Vignette: men in black from here, map by Google

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