The owners of the Hobby Lobby Corporation have agreed to forfeit thousands of smuggled Middle Eastern artifacts and pay a $3 million fine to settle a civil complaint brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The New York Times noted the craft store chain’s conservative evangelical Christian owners, the Green family, have long been interested in the history of the Middle East and since 2009 have been assembling a collection of artifacts from that region. Much of the collection is reportedly destined for the Museum of the Bible the Greens plan to open in Washington, D.C., this fall.
The Justice Department said Hobby Lobby ignored the warnings of an expert in 2010 and paid $1.6 million for 5,500 artifacts of questionable origin – including rare cuneiform tablets (traditional clay slabs with wedge-shaped writing that originated in ancient Mesopotamia, now Iraq).
“In October 2010, an expert on cultural property law retained by Hobby Lobby warned the company that the acquisition of cultural property likely from Iraq, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, carries a risk that such objects may have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq,” the department said in a complaint.
Justice Department officials said the artifacts were illegally shipped from Israel and the United Arab Emirates to Hobby Lobby facilities in the U.S. They were put into shipping containers falsely labeled as tiles.
The Atlantic noted the pillaging of antiquities in Iraq has been rampant, and the terrorist group ISIS has made millions by selling ancient artifacts. U.S. officials have not directly connected the artifacts bought by Hobby Lobby to ISIS or any other terrorist group.