Saturday, March 23, 2013

New York Prosecutors Seek to Forfeit Ancient Egyptian Artifacts

­­­The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York on March 20 filed a complaint in federal court seeking to forfeit five ancient Egyptian objects. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized the items in 2010. The artifacts include:
  • Amarna-style carving in Egypt.  Photo credit: PocketAces
    An Amarna Period sunken limestone relief of offering bearers with an appraised fair market value of $18,000.
  • A Late Period fragment block statue made of gray schist, having an appraised fair market value of $12,000.
  • A New Kingdom limestone relief displaying the arms of offering bearers, appraised at $2,000.
  • A New Kingdom limestone relief depicting a man, valued at $5,000.
  • A Middle Kingdom funerary boat valued at $20,000.
Government lawyers write that the archaeological material arrived in a FedEx shipment on August 20, 2010 at Newark's Liberty International Airport. The ancient Egyptian objects "were sold in and exported from Dubai, UAE by Hassan Fazeli Trading Company, LLC (‘Fazeli Trading’). [They] were purchased and imported by [Salem] Alshdaifat, by and through Holyland [Numismatics],” allege the prosecutors.

[Sidebar: Alshdaifat, owner of Holyland Numismatics, pleaded guilty on December 21, 2012 to a reduced charge of misdemeanor accessory after the fact in the cultural property case of U.S. v. Khouli et al. The present forfeiture case, however, is not directed against Alshdaifat as it is a civil matter naming the ancient Egyptian artifacts as the defendants in rem.]

The government argues that the objects should be forfeited because of false statements regarding the reported values of the cultural artifacts, false statements about the country of origin, and false declarations made to customs regarding their descriptions.

Prosecutors cite four legal grounds. First, they argue that the objects must be forfeited under 18 U.S.C. § 545 (smuggling) because the archaeological material "are goods or merchandise smuggled, clandestinely introduced into the united States, imported contrary to law ....” Second, the artifacts constitute unlawfully imported merchandise under 18 U.S.C. § 545 and/or 18 U.S.C. § 542 (false statements). Third, they "were imported into the United States without the merchandise invoices setting forth accurate information necessary for proper appraisement, examination and classification” in violation of 19 U.S.C. § 148.  Fourth the cultural items "were not imported into the United States with reasonable care to make entry therefore by filing with the CBP documentation and information necessary to determine whether the  [objects] may be released from custody of Customs and Border Protection” contrary to 19 U.S.C. § 1484 (a)(1).

The forfeiture complaint alleges that the value of the goods was understated. The government hired National Appraisal Consultants, LLC, who estimated the fair market value of the archaeological objects to be $57,000. But the import value reported to CBP was below that figure.

The government, meanwhile, claims that discrepant values were placed on customs forms and invoices. Prosecutors write, "The value declared on the FedEx airwaybill and the Fazeli Trading invoice to Holyland was $17,500. The value declared on the Customs Form 3461 was $1,334. The value declared on the Customs Form 7501 was $17,881, broken down into one line item valued at $17,500 and a second line item valued at $381. No invoice was provided for the second line item.” Moreover, “The Fazeli Trading invoice lists four items sold to Holyland: one 'Ancient Egyptian Wooden Boat' ... for $3,500 and three 'Ancient Egyptian Stone Fragment[s]' for $14,000, for a total of $17,500. This information is repeated on the Commercial Invoice supplied to FedEx Brokerage. Although the shipment contained four stone fragments, both invoices state that there were only three stone fragments sold. Neither invoice reflects an object sold for $381."

The government's complaint also argues the listing of a false country of origin. While prosecutors point out that “[t]he Fazeli Trading invoice and Commercial Invoice describe the Defendants in rem as ‘Ancient Egyptian,’” the lawyers add that “the Commercial Invoice listed the ‘country of manufacture’ as ‘Turkey.’” Government attorneys additionally say that “the documents available to Customs upon the shipment's arrival … did not list Egypt as the country of origin or country of manufacture ….” Prosecutors specify that “[t]he country of manufacture declared on the FedEx airwaybill was Turkey, [t]he country of origin declared on the Customs Form 3461 was the UAE, [t]he country of origin declared on the Customs Form 7501 was ‘Multi.’”

The government's complaint additionally alleges false descriptions, arguing "The Fazeli Trading invoice and Commercial Invoice list only three stone fragments, while there were in fact four stone pieces in the shipment...." The complaint also claims that the import description of "Stone Wooden Antique Lime" was inadequate. Morevoer, the listed Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) 9703 number, which designates original sculptures and statuary, was off target say the prosecutors.  The government alleges that when CBP detained the archaeological objects the importer of record supplied a new HTS number of 9706.00.0060, which covers antiques over 100 years old. The objects should have been classified as HTS 9705.00.0070, argue prosecutors.  HTS 9705.00.0070 covers collections and collectors' pieces of archaeological, historical, or ethnographic pieces.

The government's complaint states that Alshdaift filed a response to the CBP seizure, writing
"Alshdaifat and Holyland submitted a petition for remission through counsel dated September 23, 2010. In his petition, Alshdaifat claimed that he 'conducted his due diligence' to ensure that the [objects] 'were not stolen from Egypt.' In particular, Alshdaifat averred that he had asked Hassan Fazeli, proprietor of Fazeli Trading, about the origin ... to which Fazeli responded that [they] had been part of a private Turkish collection of decorative antiques that he purchased in 2008. Alshdaifat also submitted a copy of Fazeli's export commercial invoice and UAE Customs declaration which purportedly established Fazeli' s purchase and importation of the private collection.”  The forfeiture complaint notes that “none of the items described in the export commercial invoice for Fazeli's purchase correspond to the [objects]."

The forfeiture case is docketed as 13-CV-1462.

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT: