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Hobby Lobby Bought Thousands of Smuggled Iraqi Artifacts in 2010. Now It’s Sending Them Back.

May 2, 2018, 10:16 AM UTC

Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based retailer, reportedly bought 5,500 ancient Iraqi artifacts in 2010 from dealers in the United Arab Emirates and Israel. It made the $1.6 million purchase even after being warned that the objects could have been looted from Iraqi archaeological sites. The artifacts included cuneiform tablets, clay bullae, and cylinder seals.

Now many of the items are going back to Iraq.

Hobby Lobby will return 3,800 of these artifacts to Iraq on Wednesday, according to NPR. The move follows a lawsuit by the Justice Department, filed in 2017, that accused Hobby Lobby of purchasing smuggled goods and importing them using false declarations.

The purchase, according to the Justice Department, was in violation of federal law. “American collectors and importers must ensure compliance with laws and regulations that require truthful declarations to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, so that Customs officers are able to scrutinize cultural property crossing our borders and prevent the inappropriate entry of such property,” said Bridget Rohde, an acting United States attorney.

The shipping labels on the artifacts falsely described them as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample)” from Turkey or Israel.

It is unclear whether Hobby Lobby knew about the provenance of the artifacts. Those responsible for the purchase reportedly did not meet the owner and dealer of the items, but wired payments “to seven bank accounts held in other people’s names,” reports NPR.

Nevertheless, Hobby Lobby agreed to pay a $3 million fine in July of last year and surrender the artifacts to settle a civil lawsuit from the Justice Department over their acquisition.

An official from the Iraqi Embassy in Washington D.C. told NPR that the returned items will likely be displayed at Iraq’s National Museum.

Hobby Lobby has ties to the Museum of the Bible, a museum that opened in Washington D.C. last November. The museum contains millions of dollars worth of artifacts that were donated by the retailer.