Monday, February 13, 2012

ACCG Makes Allegations in Baltimore Coin Case Reply Brief

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) today filed its reply case in the case of ACCG v. US Customs and Border Protection et al. The reply is a response to the brief by federal attorneys last month. The court case first started when the ACCG imported ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins through Baltimore, Maryland without a permit in an effort to challenge import protections put in place by the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). The case is now on appeal in the Fourth Circuit after the ACCG lost in the lower federal district court.

The judiciary possesses the authority to review implementation of import controls over listed Chinese and Cypriot ancient coins coming into the United States. That is what the ACCG contends in its legal brief. The organization summarizes its position in the argument title: "The District Court Possessed Ample Authority to Review the Government's Decision to Impose Import Restrictions on Collectors' Coins."

The group casts the controversy as a contest between "collectors' coins," which are of interest to the organization's small numismatic businesses and hobbyists, versus "serious substantive and procedural irregularities" on the government's part. It complains that "[t]he Government … insists that its efforts to suppress the long-standing trade in common collectors' coins is either a foreign policy matter or one fully committed to agency discretion, leaving the Guild and the small businesses and collectors it represents without recourse." The group challenges authorities who believe they are "empowered to seize any undocumented coin that 'likely' was found in either Cyprus or China, notwithstanding explicit statutory language [in the Cultural Property Implementation Act] to the contrary."

The ACCG's brief levels "serious allegations," claiming that US State Department staff "worked behind-the-scenes with members of the archaeological lobby to orchestrate a change in existing precedent exempting coins from import restrictions ...." and that "staff added coins to the Chinese import restrictions without a formal request from Chinese officials." The ACCG also alleges that an undersecretary of state "ordered [Cypriot] import restrictions … as a 'thank you' to Greek and Cypriot-American advocacy groups which had given him an award" and that an assistant secretary of state "did not recuse herself from approving the 2007 extension of the Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with Cyprus after she had accepted a new position with an international financial institution that likely has business interests with Cyprus …." The group additionally claims that the "State [Department] then misled Congress and the public about CPAC's true recommendations against import restrictions on coins." CPAC is the Cultural Property Advisory Committee that advises the president about adopting import controls over cultural property in jeopardy from pillage.

The ACCG's brief further "alleges that the Government: (1) confused 'cultural significance' with 'archaeological significance' when it comes to objects that exist in multiples, like coins; (2) ignored evidence that Cypriot and Chinese coins circulated widely beyond their place of manufacture such that the 'first discovery requiremen'’ could not be met; (3) ignored or misapplied the CPIA’s requirements that less drastic measures like treasure trove laws or regulation of metal detectors be instituted before imposing restrictions; (4) ignored or misapplied the CPIA's 'concerted international response requirement;' and (5) wrongfully imposed import restrictions on coins without regard to their find spots."

The group argues that "the court has an obligation to ascertain whether coins were properly designated for restriction." That is, in part, because "CBP [Customs and Border Protection] acted in an arbitrary, capricious, or illegal manner under the APA [Administrative Procedures Act] when it allowed [the] State [Department] to assume authority over the preparation of the designated [import control] List."

The ACCG contends that it took action in court, not because it did not follow the rules as federal lawyers assert, but because the federal government failed to file a forfeiture action. The organizations says in its brief that the "Government’s claim that a forfeiture action provided an adequate remedy for the Guild borders on the Kafkaesque."

Note: Citations of authorities contained in the original ACCG brief are omitted from the quotes above.