Hobby Lobby smuggling scandal: Israeli police arrest 5 antiquities dealers in Jerusalem

The Christian owners of the giant Hobby Lobby chain are being investigated for illegally importing ancient clay tablets from Iraq.DangApricot

Israeli police arrested five antiquities dealers in Jerusalem over the weekend, seizing a range of artefacts including gold coins and ancient weapons as part of an international investigation into smuggled Iraqi items involving the evangelical-run crafts supply firm Hobby Lobby.

Some of the artefacts in the case had made their way into the United States, according to Israeli police and the Israel Antiquities Authority, with Israeli tax and antiquities authorities only learning of the sale after US investigators uncovered details of it while looking into purchases made by Hobby Lobby.

Police then raided the homes and businesses of the unidentified dealers on suspicion of tax fraud, money laundering and forgery, according to CNN.

Hobby Lobby had purchased $1.6 million worth of Iraqi artefacts over the past seven years from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to the US Department of Justice.

Those who allegedly sold the artefacts were authorised Israeli dealers, but they falsified invoices and receipts, said Dr Eitan Klein from the Israel Antiquities Authority's department for preventing antiquities theft.

According to Klein, the artefacts never passed through Israel, but instead were shipped directly from the UAE to the United States with the Israeli dealers allegedly arranging the sale and coordinating the shipment.

As Christian Today reported, in early July, Hobby Lobby agreed to forfeit the artefacts and pay a $3 million fine to resolve a civil action brought by the Justice Department, according to court documents.

Klein said: 'A year ago, a special agent of Homeland Security came to Israel regarding the Hobby Lobby investigation, and we actually opened a joint investigation, and we helped him to investigate the dealers who sold Hobby Lobby antiquities that they purchased in Dubai.'

In the ensuing raid, police seized a trove of bronze, silver, and gold coins, as well as ancient Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Latin parchment, sculptures, pottery, and figurines, CNN reported.

On Sunday, the five antiquities dealers were brought before a Jerusalem Magistrate's Court where a judge extended their custody.

Hobby Lobby's president, Steve Green, said in a July 5 statement: 'We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled. Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, and with the announcement of [July's] settlement agreement, is pleased the matter has been resolved.'