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Hobby Lobby Fined $3 Million for Smuggling Iraqi Artifacts
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Summary: The Christian craft chain also agreed to give up thousands of clay artifacts it purchased in 2010.

Hobby Lobby may sell a variety of stamps, glitter, and paper for all your crafting needs; but it’s found itself in the news for another questionable past time–smuggling!

According to NBC News, the craft chain must pay $3 million to settle a federal case over smuggled Iraqi artifacts.


Before this scandal, Hobby Lobby was in the news in 2014 when it won a Supreme Court religious freedom case concerning birth control. The Christian company said that providing contraception to employees violated its religious views, and the court allowed it to continue its practices, despite the complaints from female employees.

Before the birth control case, the Oklahoma-based retail chain had never hidden its religious affiliation, and its “passion for the Bible” is the cited reason it smuggled the Iraqi antiquities.

In 2009, Hobby Lobby decided that it wanted to acquire a large collection of faith-based books and artifacts. Company president Steve Green flew to the United Arab Emirates to check out engraved seals, clay impressions, and cuneiform tablets that were thousands of years old. Hobby Lobby chose to buy the items; but according to a civil filing, they were warned that the items were possibly stolen.

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Green said that they had made “regrettable mistakes” when it came to the $1.6 million purchase, and he said that they were inexperienced at buying the foreign goods.

“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” Green said to NBC News. 

Green said that Hobby Lobby had cooperated with the New York U.S. attorney once the investigation commenced, and the company agreed to forfeit the thousands of clay artifacts it had acquired in 2010.

Prosecutors said that Hobby Lobby had shipped 5,500 artifacts without proper customs documentation, even though an in-house lawyer had warned the company to make sure the country of origin was properly stated on customs forms. The artifacts’ customs forms said that “ceramic tiles” or “samples” came from Turkey or Israel, but in fact, the items were from Iraq.

Before the case was settled, Hobby Lobby had put the Iraqi artifacts–cuneiform tablets and clay bullae–on its shelves. According to CNN, cuneiform is an ancient system of writing on clay tablets and clay bullae are balls of clays imprinted with seals.

After receiving the multimillion dollar fine, Hobby Lobby has vowed to set up better purchasing and training policies to avoid a similar situation.

“The protection of cultural heritage is a mission that Homeland Security Investigations and its partner US Customs and Border Protection take very seriously as we recognize that while some may put a price on these artifacts, the people of Iraq consider them priceless,” Angel Melendez, who led the investigation with the United States Attorney’s Office, told CNN.

What do you think of Hobby Lobby? Let us know in the comments below.


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