Hobby Lobby will be returning more than 5,000 ancient Iraqi artifacts that were stolen from the country and smuggled through the UAE and Israel, per a settlement with the Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice filed a civil complaint on Wednesday to seek the forfeiture of the artifacts, which included cuneiform tablets and other historic items, saying the company ignored several “red flags” regarding the items’ origins before purchasing.
In addition to the artifacts, Hobby Lobby agreed to return 144 cylinder seals and pay a $3 million fine. The company was also ordered to revise its policies and training regarding purchase of cultural artifacts.
According to the Department of Justice complaint, Hobby Lobby started collecting historic artifacts in 2009, and was warned by an expert shortly after that much of its collection could have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq. The expert also warned that improper declaration of the items’ country of origin was a violation of federal law, which meant they could be subject to seizure.
Despite the warnings, Hobby Lobby purchased 5,500 improperly labeled items in the United Arab Emirates for $1.6 million via a wire transfer to multiple personal bank accounts without formal inspection or contact with the dealer, raising further questions about what the funds were used for.
ISIS is reported to make more than $200 million per year in the illegal sale of ancient artifacts from archaelogical sites.
Hobby Lobby may very well be helping fund ISIS. ISIS steals this stuff and sells it. https://t.co/tYAR3kFJVB
— Emily C. Singer (@CahnEmily) July 5, 2017
Hobby Lobby funding ISIS would be the greatest story of the modern era
— Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) July 5, 2017
To recap: The billionaire founder of Hobby Lobby may be funding ISIS by buying religious artifacts on the black market https://t.co/I54jpyl6hx
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) July 5, 2017
This isn’t the first time Hobby Lobby has drawn public ire. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and like businesses could choose to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control and morning-after pill mandate – based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was intended to protect the religious freedoms of individuals and not corporations.
The company was also criticized for not carrying merchandise celebrating Jewish holidays, but carrying Christmas items.