Hobby Lobby Stores has settled accusations that it illegally imported thousands of ancient Iraqi artifacts. The arts and crafts chain agreed to the settlement with the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. The federal court settlement requires Hobby Lobby to pay a $3 million fine and send thousands of items back to Iraq. The items had been seized by the U.S. government.
Federal prosecutors alleged that the craft store chain had smuggled more than 3,000 items into the United States. Those items included ancient cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, which were potentially slated for the museum’s collection. Cuneiform is an ancient system of writing on clay tablets that was used in Mesopotamia. Clay bullae are balls of clay on which seals have been imprinted.
Hobby Lobby purchased 5,500 artifacts for $1.6 million in 2010. The items were shipped to Hobby Lobby, not the museum, from a United Arab Emirates-based supplier. Justice officials said the illegal artifacts were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates and Israel. The items arrived in 10 packages at three different Hobby Lobby addresses, labeled with descriptions “ceramic tiles” and “clay tiles (sample).”
The federal complaint described the suspicious activity surrounding the purchase, including that the company never met the dealer and it wired payments to seven different bank accounts. Hobby Lobby said that company officials didn’t understand the rules for properly bringing antiquities into the country. The company also said it has cooperated with the investigation.
The Museum of the Bible associated with the store’s owners is preparing to open near the Mall over the Federal Center Metro Station in Southwest Washington in November. The federal case is casting a cloud over the much-anticipated $500 million museum. The Green family is the museum’s major funder and the museum’s collection contains many items donated by the Green family. Hobby Lobby President Steve Green also chairs the board of the Museum of the Bible. However, museum is a nonprofit organization which is not a subsidiary of the craft store company.
The Museum of the Bible said in a statement that the artifacts implicated in the federal case were never part of its collection. The statement reads, “The Museum of the Bible was not a party to either the investigation or the settlement.” It continues on to say, “The Museum adheres to the current Association of Art Museum Directors standards on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art, as well as guidelines set forth by the American Alliance of Museums.”