Roughly 4,000 artifacts illegally imported into the U.S. by the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby will be returned to Iraq. A small fraction of those were on view Wednesday in the Washington D.C. backyard of the Iraqi ambassador, where a ceremony to mark the formal signing of the transfer agreement between the two nations was held. The restitution is part of a 2017 settlement between the company and the U.S. Department of Justice, in which Hobby Lobby agreed to pay a $3 million fine and forfeit more than 5,500 illicitly acquired objects, including Sumerian cuneiform tablets and clay bullae. The artifacts were purchased by the company, which is linked to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., for $1.6 million—despite concerns raised by an internal expert that they could have been looted. The company then imported the pieces into the U.S. with false customs information that underreported the value of the objects to avoid scrutiny.
“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” Hobby Lobby president Steve Green said at the time of the settlement.