US to return thousands of artifacts seized from Hobby Lobby to Iraq

The U.S. will return 3,800 ancient artifacts to Iraq on Wednesday after it was discovered that they were smuggled into the U.S. under false identification and shipped to Hobby Lobby stores, federal officials said.

The Justice Department in the Eastern District of New York filed a civil complaint in 2017 accusing Hobby Lobby of purchasing 5,500 artifacts for a total of $1.6 million in December 2010 from the United Arab Emirates despite multiple warnings from an expert on cultural property law that “could lead to seizure and forfeiture of the artifacts.”

Steve Green, the president of the nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer, traveled to the United Arab Emirates in July of that year to inspect cuneiform tablets and other antiques, the DOJ said. A few months later, the company was warned that the objects were “likely from Iraq” but still agreed to the sale.

Cuneiform is an ancient system of writing on clay tablets that was used in ancient Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.

Cuneiform is an ancient system of writing on clay tablets that was used in ancient Mesopotamia thousands of years ago. (Justice Department)

The feds also said U.S. Customs and Border Protection found that the artifacts were shipped through the UAE and Israel with “false and misleading” labels in order to mask the contents of the shipments.

(Justice Department)

Hobby Lobby agreed to a stipulation of settlement in 2017 in which the company agreed to “the forfeiture of the artifacts in the complaint, approximately 144 cylinder seals and an additional sum of $3 million, resolving the civil action,” according to the DOJ.

Green said last year his company had made “regrettable mistakes,” adding, “We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled.”

Green also said, “Our passion for the Bible continues, and we will do all that we can to support the efforts to conserve items that will help illuminate and enhance our understanding of this Great Book.”