False Entry Information Charges Net $3 Million Fine, Forfeiture of Imports
A U.S. retailer will forfeit $3 million and thousands of ancient clay artifacts to resolve civil charges that it smuggled those goods into the country. The company has also agreed to adopt internal policies and procedures governing its importation and purchase of cultural property, provide appropriate training to its personnel, hire qualified outside customs counsel and customs brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property acquisitions for the next 18 months.
A press release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations states that after the company began to assemble a collection of historically significant manuscripts, antiquities, and other cultural materials, an expert on cultural property law retained by the company warned that the acquisition of cultural property likely from Iraq carries a risk that such objects may have been looted from archaeological sites in that country. The expert also advised the company to review its collection of antiquities for any objects of Iraqi origin and to verify that their country of origin was properly declared at the time of importation into the U.S., noting that failure to do so could lead to seizure and forfeiture of the goods. Notwithstanding these warnings, the company purchased more than 5,500 cuneiform tablets and bricks, clay bullae, and cylinder seals.
HSI states that the acquisition of the artifacts “was fraught with red flags.” For example, the company received conflicting information on where the artifacts had been stored prior to inspection in the United Arab Emirates. In addition, company representatives had not met or communicated with the dealer who purportedly owned the artifacts, nor did they pay him for the artifacts, instead wiring payment to seven bank accounts held in the names of other individuals.
According to the press release, about ten shipments of the purchased artifacts arrived in the U.S. without the required entry documentation being filed with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and bearing shipping labels that falsely and misleadingly described the goods as samples of ceramic or clay tiles. Other shipments were found to have shipping labels that falsely declared the artifacts’ country of origin. A Chicago Tribune article states that the artifacts were also “deliberately undervalued and shipped in small batches to multiple addresses … to avoid drawing the attention of customs agents.”