Hobby Lobby ordered to give up ancient artifact bought for $ 1.6 million in 2014

The artifact – known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet – is inscribed with part of “Gilgamesh,” an epic poem considered one of the oldest literary works in the world. In 2014, Hobby Lobby, a private arts and crafts retailer whose president is also the president of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, purchased the clay tablet for display in the museum at a home international auction for $ 1,674,000.

The museum and Hobby Lobby both questioned the auction house about the tablet’s origin, but the auction house withheld this information and lied, saying the antique dealer had confirmed details of the tablet. the provenance, according to the Department of Justice, which sought to return to the artefact. to Iraq. Law enforcement officers seized the museum tablet in 2019.

The Bible Museum has expressed support for the government’s efforts to return the artifact to Iraq.

Christie’s, the international auction house from which Hobby Lobby purchased the item, previously told CNN that “any suggestion that Christie’s had knowledge of the original fraud or the illegal importation is unfounded.” .

Deputy Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite said in a statement Tuesday that “thwarting the contraband trade by seizing and confiscating an ancient artifact shows the department’s determination to use all available tools, including confiscation , to guarantee justice “.

This message was echoed by Acting U.S. District Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Jacquelyn Kasulis, who said the confiscation represents “an important step on the road to the return of this rare and ancient masterpiece of literature. world in its country of origin “.

Hobby Lobby previously agreed to confiscate thousands of artifacts from Iraq and pay a fine of $ 3 million in 2017 to resolve a civil action brought against him by the Justice Department.

In 2018, these 3,800 ancient artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, were returned to Iraq after being falsely labeled as “tile samples” and smuggled into Hobby Lobby, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Ministry of Justice.

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