Wednesday, June 11, 2014

LCCHP Issues Call to Action Over Looted Coins Exemption - AIA Joins with a Petition

Dangerous. That is the term used by a reference document cited by the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP) to describe a potential legislative proposal that would allow looted archaeological coins to enter the United States legally.

LCCHP has issued a call to action to halt the coin looters’ exemption before it might be introduced. The nonprofit posted a statement on its web site that explains what is happening:

Members of Congressman Charles B. Rangel’s (Dem-NY) and Congressman Steve Israel’s (Dem-NY) staff are considering the introduction of legislation that would specifically exempt coins from trade restrictions under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). This initiative is being heavily lobbied for by coin collectors. LCCHP opposes the passage of this legislation, which would weaken protection of cultural heritage and allow collectors to more easily purchase coins discovered during illicit excavations.… We encourage our members within the relevant districts to contact the Congressmen regarding this legislation.
LCCHP President Elizabeth Varner and Vice President Diane Penneys Edelman wrote the lawmakers to say, “Such an exemption is neither needed by the coin trade nor warranted by CPIA’s provisions, and would cause irreparable harm to international relations."

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), meanwhile, has launched a voice public concern over the looted coins exemption, saying "Rep. Rangel and Israel need to hear from their constituents like you who oppose this exemption."

Readers of CHL are keenly aware that the CPIA is the federal statute that authorizes U.S. Customs and Border Protection to keep out specifically designated archaeological coins—among other archaeological materials in jeopardy of pillage—from the stream of American commerce. The law's definitions cover ancient coins.

International Numismatic Council President Carmen Arnold-Biucchi has reiterated the same. Writing last month to the U.S. Cultural Property Adivsory Committee (CPAC) in support of U.S. import protections for ancient coins from Egypt, the numismatist and archaeologist clarified that the CPIA targets illegal ancient coin artifacts and not the trade as a whole:
As I have stated in my support of the inclusion of coins in the MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with Cyprus, my arguments and position are not against collecting or trading coins: museums and scholars have always benefited from the collaboration and knowledge of collectors and dealers, most of whom are ethical and respect the law. The restrictions and MOUs pertain to illegal activities, looting and theft. (Emphasis in the original).
Adopting a coin looters’ exemption would turn the CPIA on its head by providing a safe haven for contraband archaeological coin artifacts imported from abroad— culturally significant artifacts that Arnold-Biucchi has called “invaluable documents of material culture and a primary source of information for the history, religion and art of those cities or rulers.”

If pursued, the legislative measure would follow the ancient coin lobby’s failed legal attempts to divorce archaeological coin artifacts from the CPIA’s import requirements. In the case of Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) v. U.S. Customs et al., the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals told coin lobby advocates in clear terms that ancient coins were archaeological objects covered by the CPIA.

The appeals court added that the CPIA does not create undue burdens on importers, writing that “[t]he importer need not document every movement of its articles since ancient times. It need demonstrate only that the articles left the country that has requested import restrictions before those restrictions went into effect or more than ten years before the date of import.”

A congressional initiative to carve out a coin looters’ exemption would directly challenge the Fourth Circuit’s ruling. It would also drag the legislative branch into the active federal district court case of U.S. v. Three Knife-Shaped Coins, Twelve Chinese Coins, and Seven Cypriot Coins, the bitterly contested spin-off of ACCG v. U.S. Customs that pits the coin lobby against Maryland’s top federal prosecutor and the U.S. State Department.

Better than a change to the CPIA would be a record keeping law that brings integrity to the purchase and sale of ancient coins. Such a bill would require dealer record keeping of purchase and sales transactions and the chain of custody of archaeological coin artifacts imported and sold. A record keeping law, framed along the lines of one previously proposed by CHL, would help to spotlight and separate the black trade that has latched onto the legitimate marketplace and thereby help to safeguard an increasingly threatened archaeological record.

Staffers in Rep. Israel’s office might find this measure more appealing, particularly since the congressman has spearheaded other consumer protection bills including the Counterfeit Drug Enforcement Act, which proposed increased penalties for the sale of adulterated prescriptions and strengthened record keeping requirements to document the chain of custody of medications.

Documenting the chain of custody of heritage objects from dirt to dealer requires significant improvement, especially when it comes to legally importing archaeological coin artifacts. But a looters’ exemption to the CPIA would not offer a solution. Instead, this kind of exemption would expand transnational heritage trafficking into the American marketplace. That is why LCCHP and AIA have issued calls to action, urging those who care about preserving evidence of the past to contact Representatives Rangel and Israel before an exemption may be proposed.

Photo credit: A Schaeffer

By Rick St. Hilaire Text copyrighted 2010-2014 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT INFORMATION: