Americans caught, so far, stealing Iraqi art

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Wednesday, April 23, 2003 at 5:04PM :

I'm sure the list of American looters of Iraqi art, artifacts, & documents is probably much, MUCH larger.
Published on Wednesday, April 23, 2003 by the Associated Press

FOX TV News Engineer Charged with Smuggling Stolen Iraqi Art

WASHINGTON - Several members of the media and a U.S. serviceman have been caught attempting to ship Iraqi paintings, weapons and other war souvenirs to America, U.S. authorities said Wednesday.

At least 15 paintings, gold-plated firearms, ornamental knives, bonds and other items have been seized at airports in Washington, Boston and London in the last week, according to the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. Items seized in the military case were flown to Fort Stewart, Ga.

"These seizures should serve as a warning to anyone who would take advantage of the transition currently under way in the newly liberated Iraq," Commissioner Robert Bonner said.

Benjamin James Johnson, who worked as an engineer for Fox News Channel, is the only person charged or identified by the government.

A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., charges Johnson tried to bring 12 paintings into the United States last Thursday. They were contained in a large cardboard box that was examined by Customs agents at Dulles International Airport outside Washington.

An affidavit filed with the criminal complaint says that Johnson, who accompanied U.S. troops in Baghdad, gathered up the paintings at a palace that belonged to Odai Hussein, one of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's sons. The paintings depict Saddam and Odai.

An examination of Johnson's luggage also turned up 40 Iraqi Monetary Bonds and a visitor's badge from the U.S. embassy in Kuwait. Johnson, 27, of Alexandria, Va., has not been arrested but is to appear before a federal magistrate next Tuesday.

Johnson initially told Customs officials he was given the paintings by Iraqi citizens, then said he had planned to keep them "for decoration" and to provide one to his employer, the affidavit said. It is U.S. policy that all such items belong to the Iraqi people.

Johnson worked for six years as a satellite truck engineer for Fox, which fired him after learning he had acknowledged taking the paintings, a network statement said.

"This is an unfortunate incident and his supervisor took the appropriate action for this transgression," the statement said.

Museums, businesses, government offices and homes were looted in Baghdad and other cities after the fall of Saddam's regime. Among the items stolen were thousands of artworks and other antiquities, some thousands of years old, from Iraq's vast collections of items from Assyrian, Mesopotamian, Sumerian and other cultures.

Customs bureau officials said an unidentified U.S. serviceman attempted to ship a rifle, pistol, and AK-47 assault rifle - all gold-plated - taken from an Iraqi government facility to a military base in the United States. The items were seized last Friday at London's Heathrow Airport.

Customs officials in Boston said they confiscated several souvenirs, including a painting, from Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden when he returned Saturday from Kuwait. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Boston said the decision was made not to charge Crittenden with a crime.

A statement from The Herald said that Crittenden declared the items and cooperated with Customs officials.

Additional Iraqi items, including a painting, gold-plated emblem, gun holster and knife, that were being shipped by several other members of the media were seized at Dulles on Monday.

Authorities declined to place a monetary value on the items, but did say that none involved in these seizures appeared to have been taken from Iraqi's famed museums.

2003 The Associated Press

-- Sadie
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