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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Chinese Artifacts Case: Florida U.S. Attorney Files Obstruction Charges

An antiquities gallery and its manager/director were charged by federal prosecutors last week for obstructing justice. Lorin & Son, LLC and Francois Lorin were both charged with obstruction of proceedings under 18 USC § 1512(c)(2). That statute declares, "Whoever corruptly ... obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so" is guilty of a crime. The maximum penalty is a fine of $500,000 for a corporation and 20 years imprisonment plus a fine of $250,000 for a person.

The criminal information filed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida alleges that Lorin and his company illegally tampered with the customs process by supplying, through their lawyer, false information concerning the import of Chinese artifacts.

A person or corporation is innocent unless the prosecution proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The criminal complaint alleges that the defendants did
frustrate the ability of CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] to implement and carry out the terms of the Tariff Act of 1930 ... with regard to examination of merchandise imported to the Port of Miami on or about June 4, 2011 ... by causing their attorneys ... to submit to CBP correspondence dated June 30, 2011 and a Petition for Expedited Procedures and Early Release dated July 3, 2012, containing false and fraudulent information and phony supporting documentation, falsely alleging provenance for items of Chinese fine art contained in the shipment, including false information related to items dated to the period pre-907 A.D ., in order to frustrate the ability of CBP to accurately determine whether such items were lawfully imported into the United States.
CBP reportedly sought to inspect the objects to find out if they were restricted imports under the terms of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act's Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) covering Chinese archaeological and ethnological material in jeopardy of pillage.

The shipment number, identified in the criminal information as EQY-0001437-3, suggests that the defendants allegedly used or purported to use a Miami-based shipping logistics company to import the objects. The format of the shipment number appears consistent with the three digit alphanumeric filer code, seven digit entry number, and one digit check typically entered on Form 7501.

The U.S. Attorney's Office describes Lorin & Son as "a Nevada limited liability company
registered to do business in Florida and that conducted business from a location in Winter Park." And a November 4 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bulletin says that "Lorin & Son, LLC conducted business in Florida under the name 'Asiantiques.'"

A review of available public records in Nevada reveals that Lorin & Son, LLC filed as a domestic limited liability company on September 16, 2003 and that it's business license expired on September 30, 2013. Francois Lorin and others are listed as Managing Members. Florida corporate filings show that Asiantiques, Inc. formed on September 29, 1988 and administratively dissolved on September 25, 2009 after the company failed to submit an annual report. Francois Lorin is listed as a director of the corporation, but the name Lorin & Sons does not appear in the index of Florida's records. Asiantiques web site states that the business has been operating since 1978.

Although the January 14, 2009 MoU between the U.S. and the People's Republic of China prohibits archaeological materials from China entering the U.S. without permission, the defendants in the case are not being charged with smuggling contraband items. They are instead charged with supplying information to authorities claiming that the Chinese artifacts seized by CPB were already in the U.S. prior to the adoption of import restrictions.

The criminal information alleges that the defendants "imported a shipment of approximately 488 items of merchandise from Hong Kong to the Port of Miami, in Miami-Dade County, Florida .... The shipment included approximately 27 items of Chinese fine art that dated to periods prior to the year A .D. 907. The shipment was interdicted by CBP...."

ICE's bulletin adds:
invoices accompanying the shipment indicated that the entire contents had originated in Florida and were being returned to the United States after having been shipped to Hong Kong for a trade show. After the items were interdicted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors, Francois B. Lorin and others created false documents to justify provenance for certain items in the shipment that were prohibited from entering the United States without such provenance. Thereafter, Lorin & Son, LLC and Francois B. Lorin, through counsel, filed a petition for remission with CBP and provided supporting materials, in which they argued for release of the interdicted items by using false invoices and providing other false information. The invoices that were submitted were backdated, falsely claimed that items had been acquired from third-parties before the MOU date, and otherwise falsely claimed that these documents established “proof” that the items could be lawfully imported.
Shipping records covering goods arriving in Miami on June 4, 2011 from Hong Kong show 362 entries on that day, but they do not describe imports bound for Asiantiques or Lorin & Sons.

The artifacts seized by CBP include objects from the Ancient and Imperial periods such as bronze mirrors, weapons, and containers as well as nephrite jade bi disks.

The defendants have waived indictment, and the federal court has set bail at $100,000 surety.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer's office, notably, is also handling the current forfeiture case targeting Peruvian cultural artifacts.

Photo credit: linder6580

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Text copyrighted 2010-2013 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited.  CONTACT INFORMATION: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com