The Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby is known to most Americans for its refusal to pay for health insurance that includes female contraception, but last week the arts-and-crafts vendor gained still more infamy when it was slapped with a complaint from federal prosecutors in Brooklyn that the company bought 5,500 artefacts illegally smuggled out of Iraq in December 2010.
The complaint alleges that Hobby Lobby's $1.6m purchase was rife with "red flags", not least among them the decision to go ahead with the sale despite the fact that in-house counsel advised the company's president Steve Green, that the objects' shady provenance might indicate that they were looted from Iraq.
“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” Green said in a statement. The company has agreed to turn over the artefacts—mostly "cuneiform tablets" and "clay bullae”—along with $3m to settle the civil litigation.
Green said the smuggling was an accident, but the objects were labeled as tile samples as they left the UAE and Israel for the Hobby Lobby headquarters in Oklahoma. Green also claimed his misdeeds came from an honest love of the Bible. "Our passion for the Bible continues, and we will do all that we can to support the efforts to conserve items that will help illuminate and enhance our understanding of this Great Book,” he continued in his statement.
"The Hobby Lobby guy almost certainly believes those cuneiform tablets have powers or some shit like in Raiders [of the Lost Ark]," wrote one detractor on Twitter.
The Justice Department will ultimately decide the fate of the objects. Those with ownership claims to the objects now have 60 days to file an application to repatriate them. After that the Iraqi government may file its own claim.