Hobby Lobby Surrenders 245 More Iraq Artifacts From Smuggled Cache of Tablets and Seals to Federal Government

Hobby Lobby has now surrendered nearly 4,000 artifacts. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Updated | In a new chapter of the ongoing saga of Hobby Lobby's smuggling of Iraqi religious artifacts, the arts and crafts emporium surrendered 245 objects to the United States government, according to court documents.

Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. voluntarily turned over the artifacts to federal prosecutors in New York on January 17, according to Long Island Business News. This brings the total number of artifacts surrendered so far to 3,839. Hobby Lobby had previously agreed to turn over 5,500.

In July 2017, Hobby Lobby agreed to pay a $3 million fine for smuggling religious artifacts out of Iraq, including thousands of ancient cuneiform tablets deliberately mislabeled as tile samples, according to The New York Times.

Here's the full document of the government's letter depicted in the screenshot. https://t.co/z2nJZ2mGS0

— Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) January 17, 2018

The store's evangelical Christian owners spent $1.6 million on the artifacts in December of 2010, even after a cultural property law expert that the business itself had retained warned that such artifacts might have been looted, and that without proper verification they could be seized by United States Customs and Border Protection. Nevertheless, according to a press statement from the United States Justice Department, Hobby Lobby persisted:

The acquisition of the Artifacts was fraught with red flags. For example, Hobby Lobby received conflicting information where the Artifacts had been stored prior to the inspection in the UAE. Further, when the Artifacts were presented for inspection to Hobby Lobby's president and consultant in July 2010, they were displayed informally. In addition, Hobby Lobby representatives had not met or communicated with the dealer who purportedly owned the Artifacts, nor did they pay him for the Artifacts. Rather, following instructions from another dealer, Hobby Lobby wired payment for the Artifacts to seven personal bank accounts held in the names of other individuals.

The artifacts themselves include around 450 ancient cuneiform tablets and around 3,000 clay bullae, or inscribed seals, according to court documents from the 2017 civil complaint. Cuneiform is among the world's oldest known systems of writing, believed to have originated in ancient Mesopotamia.

Hobby Lobby didn't buy from ISIS. But it did perpetuate the black market from which ISIS profits. https://t.co/ZgyJlrWWqo

— New York Times Opinion (@nytopinion) July 7, 2017

A media relations representative for Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. issued the following statement to Newsweek:

The 245 artifacts were part of the same transaction that was the subject of Hobby Lobby's settlement with the government in July 2017. At the time of the settlement, the artifacts could not be located. Hobby Lobby agreed that if they were located, the company would turn them over to the government. The artifacts were subsequently located and turned over.

Hobby Lobby President Steve Green owns one of the largest collections of religious artifacts anywhere in the world, having been actively collecting various Middle Eastern antiquities since 2009, according to Long Island Business News. He was recently responsible for the unveiling of a Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Some of the smuggled Iraqi artifacts would have been intended for that museum.

The federal government became suspicious of Green's collection in 2011, when U.S. customs opened FedEx packages that had been declared as "'hand made [sic] clay tiles (sample)' manufactured in Turkey," according to the Justice Department.

This story has been updated to include a response issued on behalf of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.