Antique smugglers face charges [Archives:2007/1110/Front Page]

December 10 2007

By: Hamed Thabet
SANAA, Dec. 11 ) The governorate appellate court for the second time imprisoned three suspects, two Yemeni and one Jordanian, on charges of smuggling antiques. The court will give its judgment on January 28th.

About 800 antiques were found in a house, located in the diplomatic area in Sana'a, rented by a Jordanian named Samir Hammad, who is accused of smuggling Yemeni antiquities and defacing them, by adding symbols to the ornaments to match the ancient Yemeni Jewish style, such as the Temple Mount, the Star of David and Hebrew letters.

Previously the court had released Samir on bail, despite objections by some on grounds that he should serve his sentence. He is being prosecuted by the penal branch of the governorate appellate court, the public prosecution in Marib and lastly by the Attorney General's office for property prosecution.

Abud Al-Rahman Jar Allah, Deputy of the Museums in the Antiquities General Assembly, noted that, “Before these crimes, Samir had committed various other offences; he had been suspected, but knew how to avoid being prosecuted.”

Tools used for forging antiques were found in his apartment. Besides possessing original antiques, he melted and designed gold and paint to copy ancient Jewish lettering and pictures. According to old laws related to antiques, anyone who smuggles antiques or trades them will receive a 2-5 year imprisonment sentence. The new antiques law is not yet in effect.

The 800 antiques are now in the custody of the General Assembly of Antiques and Museums, and according to Jar Allah, “We definitely have to keep the confiscated antiques because they will be used as proof to convict Samir. However, after the court sentences him we will return all the antiques that we have to the National Museum.”

The General Assembly for Antiquities and Museums and the Ministry of the Interior are cooperating in order to find missing links in the case. Jar Allah confirmed, “The two government branches are serious and will work hard to find those who are behind Samir and why and how they supported him. These people could be from tribes who trade with antique dealers in Marib, Al-Jowf and others in Yemen and other countries.”

“A smuggler like Samir and anyone who stays in Yemen should at least show some respect to its history. This type of people must be expelled from Yemen. But the problem is, he is still in the country. I hope that Samir will receive a heavy sentence, which will be an example for anyone thinking of smuggling antiques from Yemen,” added Jar Allah. Hundreds of antiques have been smuggled to other countries. Officials reported that many were smuggled from Sana'a International Airport.

Sana'a University lecturer Mohamed Al-Aroosi, former president of the Yemeni General Organization of Antiques and Museum, stated that Yemeni law does not have strict sentences for those who smuggle antiques and sell them to other countries, which has the negative effect of by encouraging them to do more smuggling without fear of the government.

Al-Aroosi added, “This crime against our heritage takes place because the law is not as strict as it should be. Hundreds of ancient places are ruined and looted by smugglers who search tirelessly to find priceless antiques.”

Police have foiled a number of smuggling operations, mostly at Sana'a International Airport. Thousands of stolen archeological pieces stolen from museums or sites were seized and returned to Yemen. The exact number of smuggled valuables is not known, according to officials.

In October 2003, police foiled one of the largest smuggling operations at Sana'a Airport, seizing about 500 antiques. In 2004, security authorities in the airport seized another 1000 antiques. In January 2005, Iyad Shaker, an Iraqi smuggler, was caught with 872 miscellaneous antiques, including 97 original antique statues and 256 antique bronze pieces. In addition to gold and coins, 187 popular heritage pieces and 332 counterfeit pieces were found. Moreover, in April 2005 the General Authority for Antiquities and Museums received 19 antiques, four of which were caught near the border. In the same year, security forces seized several kilograms of gold and a number of stone artifacts, in addition to bronze pieces dating back to every historic period of ancient Yemen.