One of the objects seized during the arrest of antiquities dealers in Jerusalem.

Israeli Authorities Bust Antiquities Dealers Allegedly Involved in Hobby Lobby Scandal

According to NPR, Israeli police apprehended five Palestinian antiquities dealers in Jerusalem who are allegedly connected to the sale of smuggled artifacts to Hobby Lobby, a privately owned arts-and-crafts chain based in the US. Law enforcement officials said that falsified documents (including invoices for around $20 million in sales), suspicion of tax evasion, and money laundering were the reasons for the arrests. Items such as papyrus fragments from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a fresco remnant from Pompeii, more than $200,000 in cash, and a pair of Audi-made vehicles were confiscated from the dealers’ homes on Sunday, July 30.

Israel is currently the only country in the Middle East that allows artifacts that are not considered rare to be legally exported. While some dealers fear the incident will have a chilling affect on the market, others think it might halt the country’s antiquities trade entirely. “This looks to me like the beginning of the end of the legal business in Israel,” said David Hendin, a biblical coin expert and vice president of the American Numismatic Society. “It’s the biggest step yet in the shutting down of what’s left of the legal trade.”

In July, Hobby Lobby surrendered fifty-five hundred illicit artifacts that it purchased overseas to the US government. The retail giant also agreed to pay a $3 million fine, adopt internal polices about importing cultural objects, and submit quarterly reports to the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn detailing any purchases of antiquities over the next eighteen months. Hobby Lobby said in a statement that it purchased the artifacts to honor “the company’s mission and passion for the Bible” and “did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process,” which resulted in “some regrettable mistakes.”