Arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby has agreed to forfeit 5,500 ancient artifacts that have been smuggled out of Iraq and pay a $3 million fine in a settlement with the Justice Department.
In 2010, the Christian-owned company reportedly imported thousands of ancient artifacts from Iraq that were illegally smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
Packages that have been falsely marked as "ceramic tiles" or "clay tiles" were shipped to three Hobby Lobby corporate addresses in Oklahoma City, according to Religion News Service.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Justice Department said that Hobby Lobby will forfeit the artifacts and pay $3 million to settle civil charges filed against the company.
Among the artifacts to be forfeited were cuneiform tablets and bricks, clay bullae and cylinder seals.
Hobby Lobby President Steve Green denied that the artifacts were purchased from dealers from Iraq or from anyone who indicated that the items came from the war-torn country.
"The Company was new to the world of acquiring these items, and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process. This resulted in some regrettable mistakes," Green said in a statement on Wednesday.
However, some experts have asserted that Hobby Lobby must have known that it was illegally importing artifacts.
"They have obviously created a track record of having a knowledge and at least an appreciation of the value of these things," said Matthew Canepa, a professor of art and archaeology of the ancient Near East at the University of Minnesota. "They're not just sort of a naive tourist kind of picking up a souvenir," he added.
Canepa further argued that anything from Iraq is considered "highly ethically suspect," unless it has a long history within a respected museum.
Hobby Lobby noted that it has now "implemented acquisition policies and procedures based on the industry's highest standards established by the Association of Art Museum Directors."
"We have accepted responsibility and learned a great deal," said Green, who also serves as the chairman of the Museum of the Bible, which is slated to open in Washington D.C. in November.
Steven Bickley, the Museum of the Bible's vice president of marketing, administration, and finance, said that the museum was not part of the Justice Department's investigation or the settlement.
He maintained that the department does not "have any concerns about our collection," adding that "the artifacts that were referred to were never in our collection."