Hobby Lobby Agrees to Pay $3 Million Fine, Forfeit Smuggled Iraqi Antiquities in Settlement With Justice Department

Cuneiform writing on a clay tablet improperly imported into the U.S. by the Hobby Lobby company, which is forfeiting thousands of items.
Department of Justice

Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based chain of arts and crafts retail stores, has agreed to pay a $3 million fine and forfeit thousands of ancient clay tablets and clay bullae that were smuggled into the United States with improper labels.

The announcement by the Justice Department says Hobby Lobby bought over 5,500 artifacts, such as clay tablets and blocks with cuneiform writing, and cylinder seals for $1.6 million. The artifacts, originally from Iraq, were shipped to the company from the United Arab Emirates and Israel with labels that described them as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample).”

In a statement, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said the company “was new to the world of acquiring these items, and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process. This resulted in some regrettable mistakes.”

“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” he said.

But the Justice Department prosecutors say the company should have realized that its acquisition of the artifacts “was fraught with red flags.”

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SOURCE: NPR, Richard Gonzales