Artifacts seized in the July 30th antiquities raid. .
(photo credit: POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
According to NPR, Israeli Police arrested in Jerusalem the five Palestinian antiquities dealers that aided Hobby Lobby, an American Christian arts and craft chain, in the trade of Middle Eastern antiquities. The arrests came as part of the settlement to return the smuggled items and pay a fine of three million dollars. The police have charged the Palestinians with tax evasion.
In addition, police confiscated $200,000 cash, 2 luxury Audi vehicles and artifacts from Ancient Egypt and Pompeii. The Palestinian smugglers counterfeited tax invoices that were used by an American smuggler. The American used the invoice to receive a large tax break to be shared with the Palestinians.
The owners of Hobby Lobby, the Green Family, claimed they were unaware the invoices had been counterfeit, but acknowledged that better oversight should have been practiced. "The company imprudently relied on dealers and shippers who, in hindsight, did not understand the correct way to document and ship these items."
Hobby Lobby was indirectly connected to the smugglers through the United Arab Emirates and made payments into private bank accounts. The American prosecutors claimed that sales between Hobby and the antiquities dealer had many "red flags." Hobby Lobby cooperated fully with the investigation and handed over all documents to contacts involved in the transaction.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East that allows for a legal ancient antiquities market. The country allows wealthy collectors to purchase a piece of history, but new restrictions are be created as a result of the arrests. The Israeli government plans to create stricter oversight and closely monitor legally licensed dealers.