A complaint alleging gross theft of Iraq’s cultural heritage filed against Hobby Lobby, a US-based arts and craft retailer, highlights the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) rise as a global centre for illegal antiquities traffic and cooperation between UAE and Israeli dealers on the black market.
Last week, Hobby Lobby agreed to pay a $3m fine to settle a federal lawsuit that accused it of buying smuggled ancient Iraqi artefacts that were shipped under false documentation.
According to the complaint filed by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in New York, Hobby Lobby President Steven Green and a consultant travelled to the UAE in July 2010 to view over 5,500 artefacts, largely from Iraq, for purchase.
Four people whose names were withheld – three from Israel and one from the UAE – were the vendors.
There’s “a lot of business that flows between the UAE and Israel” in terms of illicit trade of cultural heritage, Dr Amr al-Azm, an archaeologist, professor at Shawnee State University, told Al Jazeera.
Israel has long been a gateway for illegal artefacts sold to the West, Azm explained. The country has lax laws on the sale of antiquities and its favourability in Europe and the US gives it “ease of access to markets”.
The UAE has recently become a hub for black market artefacts due to increased demand in the Gulf and a “well established” class of activity in the state, including “smuggling and contraband”, Azm said.
“That’s probably why these connections exist.”
Among the 5,500 items examined, there were more than 1,500 tablets and 500 bricks adorned with cuneiform, the earliest known writing system, which was invented by Sumerians who lived in modern-day southern Iraq.
These objects were intended for the Green’s Museum of the Bible, a private museum in Washington, DC that is set to open in November.
Etc. This is an important reminder that there are many links in this depraved chain, and they aren’t all Evangelical.