Arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. will return thousands of ancient artifacts to Iraq on Wednesday that were allegedly smuggled into the United States, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby settled a $3 million lawsuit last year over its 2010 purchase of 5,500 artifacts, which included cuneiform tablets, clay bullae and cylinder seals, from dealers based in the United Arab Emirates and Israel. ICE noted at the time that the transaction was “fraught with red flags.”
For example, the retailer paid $1.6 million for the items, but never met nor spoke with the individual who was said to have owned the artifacts. Instead the company wired the money to seven personal bank accounts belonging to other individuals. The shipments were not properly registered with Customs and Border Patrol, and the contents were also falsely labeled.
Hobby Lobby, which was assembling a collection of “historically significant” manuscripts and antiquities at the time, reportedly ignored warnings from an expert that acquiring property from Iraq was a risk because the items could have been looted from archaeological sites, ICE said.
The agency said that Hobby Lobby had “accepted responsibility” for the incident and has agreed to forfeit all of the artifacts shipped to the U.S. In total, about 4,000 of the 5,500 artifacts were shipped.
Hobby Lobby did not immediately return FOX Business’ request for comment and it is unclear whether the retailer was aware that the items were being smuggled into the U.S.
Since 2007, ICE has returned more than 8,000 artifacts to more than 30 countries, the agency said, such as Ancient Roman artifacts, and Peruvian ceramics.
Hobby Lobby made national headlines in 2014 when it won a challenge against an Affordable Care Act provision that required it to cover the costs of employees’ contraception, which it said violated its religious beliefs.