In an utterly bizarre turn of events that has captivated social media users, arts and crafts goliath Hobby Lobby has been forced to turn over thousands of ancient Iraqi artifacts and pay a hefty fine after federal prosecutors determined that the corporation was smuggling pricy items through a complicated logistics chain.
Hobby Lobby, which is based in Oklahoma City, will pay $3 million and hand over its enormous collection of pilfered archeological goods – including cuneiform tablets, balls of clay with imprinted seals called bullae, and other items dating back to Biblical times – in order to avoid further civil action.
Justice Department officials claimed that dealers working with Hobby Lobby stealthily mislabeled shipments as “ceramics” and “samples” in order ship them to the arts and crafts chain’s stores and corporate offices without attracting attention. The artifacts are believed to have come through Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Despite its cooperation with the ongoing investigation, Hobby Lobby appears to believe that it’s perfectly normal for a home goods store to amass ancient treasures.
“In 2009, Hobby Lobby began acquiring a variety of historical Bibles and other artifacts,” the company said in a statement. “Developing a collection of historically and religiously important books and artifacts about the Bible is consistent with the company’s mission and passion for the Bible.”
Hobby Lobby President Steve Green admitted that his company “should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” but he suggested that the case is now closed: “with the announcement of today’s settlement agreement, [Hobby Lobby] is pleased the matter has been resolved.”
According to the DoJ, Green was warned by an expert on cultural property law that the items he was purchasing were likely looted from archeological sites in Iraq. But he went ahead and purchased 5,548 items for $1.6 million back in December 2010 in a deal that the feds claim was “fraught with red flags.”
In addition to returning the artifacts and forking over a fine, Hobby Lobby was also compelled to pledge that it will impose new policies and train its employees to ensure that no more ancient artifacts wind up in the company’s storerooms.