(photo credit: Courtesy of Eilat Customs)
A retired university lecturer from the US was held for questioning this week
after allegedly selling and trying to smuggle abroad hundreds of valuable
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The suspect, a former history lecturer
specializing in Ancient Egypt, is alleged to have sold ancient coins and other
historical relics to some 20 tourists he was guiding in Israel, and to have
tried to leave the country with cash and checks totaling over
Customs authorities in conjunction with Antiquities Authority
officials detained the suspect at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday night as he
prepared to board a flight to the US.
After admitting to the alleged
offenses and filing a hefty deposit to ensure his return for trial, he was
allowed to leave the country.
The arrest came after a week-long
surveillance operation by undercover Antiquities Authority agents. On Monday
officials saw the suspect selling antiquities to tourists in a hotel. Once the
sale was completed, they searched the suspect’s room and belongings, discovering
hundreds of ancient artifacts they believe were stolen by antiquities robbers
from sites around the country.
Earlier on Monday, officials stopped the
tourists he had been guiding at the Taba border crossing with Egypt. Eilat
customs officials discovered 20 members of the group had illegally obtained
archeological artifacts in their possession, and apparently intended to take
them out of the country without permits.
The tourists said most of the
items were purchased from the guide during their visit to Israel. The items
included bronze and silver coins dating to the Second Temple period, clay oil
lamps from the Roman and Byzantine eras, and ancient glass and ceramic
On Monday night, the suspect was located at Ben-Gurion Airport,
attempting to leave the country. Officials found ancient coins in his
possession, as well as evidence that he had made dozens of illicit antiquities
sales over the past two weeks.
“The sale of antiquities without a permit
and the export of antiquities from Israel without permission are criminal
offenses for which the penalty prescribed by law is up to three years
imprisonment,” said Amir Ganor, director of the Antiquities Authority’s Unit for
the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery.
“Those buying antiquities from
unauthorized dealers place themselves and their money at risk, purchase
antiquities at exorbitant prices and are actually encouraging antiquities
robbery and the plundering of the country’s history,” he said.