The American Christian for-profit arts and crafts corporation based in Oklahoma City, Hobby Lobby, has agreed to pay up to $3 million to the U.S. authorities after it admitted dealing in smuggled ancient artifacts from war-torn Iraq.
Hobby Lobby was founded by the businessman David Green who claims to have come from a family of Christian preachers and built his business squarely on Christian principles. Green once said: “We’re Christians, and we run our business on Christian principles.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Hobby Lobby has been in the business of buying thousands of smuggled ancient artifacts from Iraq and other places in the Middle East.
The Christian craft store chain is said to have built a museum called Museum of the Bible: a multi-million-dollar, 430,000-square-foot behemoth set to open in November this year in Washington, D.C.
The company built the museum to bring to life the living Word of God, to tell its compelling story of preservation, and to inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible. It has been buying stolen artifacts from terrorist groups in Iraq and other war-torn countries in the Middle East to stock the museum without any diligence.
War in countries like Iraq has made archaeological sites vulnerable. For example, ISIS and other terrorist organizations reportedly stole ancient artifacts valued around $200 million in 2016 alone. This serves as a primary source of income for the terror groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries.
According to a DOJ report indicting Hobby Lobby, in one transaction, the company bought 5,500 Iraqi artifacts, mostly clay bullae and cuneiform tablets for $1.6 million. The report said the dealer who sold the artifacts to Hobby Lobby is a known smuggler based in the United Arab Emirates, who deals directly with terrorist groups in the Middle East. The smuggler reportedly sold the items to Hobby Lobby on behalf of the terrorists.
Knowing very well that the U.S. federal law forbids companies and individuals from dealing in such transactions, the DOJ said Hobby Lobby still connived with the smuggler to mislead U.S. customs officials that the artifacts from Iraq were ceramic tiles, originating from Turkey and Italy.
The report further revealed that in order to cover up traces of where the items came from, Hobby Lobby did not communicate with or pay the owner directly; instead, it wired the money to seven different personal bank accounts of unidentified individuals. Hobby Lobby lied about the items in order to avoid customs inspection, the DOJ report added .
In the civil action filed against Hobby Lobby, the DOJ demanded that the company forfeits all the artifacts it has acquired illegally. It also demanded $3 million as fine from the company for the offense it has committed.
Hobby Lobby has admitted to pay the fine saying it was new to the world of acquiring the artifacts, and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process:
“This resulted in some regrettable mistakes. The Company imprudently relied on dealers and shippers who, in hindsight, did not understand the correct way to document and ship these items. However, since learning of these errors, the Company has been an active participant with the government’s investigation and supports its efforts to protect the world’s ancient heritage.”