Saturday, July 16, 2011

Antiquities Conspirators Charged

This week federal authorities publicly released a sealed indictment charging four men with antiquities trafficking. A federal grand jury in New York alleges that an antiquities trafficking ring conspired to smuggle ancient artifacts from Egypt, engaging in money laundering and false statements in the process.

The multiple count indictment charges
• collector Joseph A. Lewis, II, president and CEO of Pharma Management Corp. in Virginia.
• Mousa Khouli of Windsor Antiquities in New York,
• Michigan coin dealer Salem Alshdaifat of Holyland Numismatics, and
• dealer Ayman Ramadan of Nefertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading from Dubai.

The indictment alleges, in part, that Lewis illicitly bought Egyptian antiquities, which were illegally imported into the United States through Dubai. The indictment also alleges that the four conspired together and with unidentified “others” in an antiquities smuggling operation.

ICE issued a July 14 press release stating that it "seized Egyptian antiquities to include but are not limited to a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, a unique three-part coffin set belonging to Shesepamuntayesher from the Saite period or 26th Dynasty, approximately 664-552 B.C. In addition to Egyptian antiquities, other Middle Eastern and Asian artifacts along with more than a thousand antique coins have been recovered.”

U.S customs agents executed a search warrant at Lewis' home on July 13 in Chesterfield, VA. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that they "recovered the Greco-Roman sarcophagus, the funerary boats and the limestone figures" there. The newspaper also reports that Lewis was convicted of illegal importation of wildlife in 1991, a charge plea bargained down from a felony to a misdemeanor. He reportedly served 30 days in home confinement, paid a $7500 fine, was placed on probation for 5 years, and was sentenced to perform community service

Ramadan remains a fugitive as of this writing.

Meanwhile, no indictments have been handed up thus far that involve the coins or Asian goods.

It should be noted that an indictment is not a finding of guilt.  A criminal defendant is presumed innocent unless the prosecution can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.