The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in a joint operation with Israeli customs thwarted an attempt to smuggle hundreds of stolen antiquities from Israel on Monday night.
The Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery recently conducted an operation in Jerusalem, during which it identified an American tour guide, a retired American university lecturer and expert on Egyptian history and culture, as he was selling antiquities to a group of American tourists he was leading in Israel.
Inspectors from the IAA were present at one of the sales which took place in a hotel. Upon conclusion of the sale the suspect was detained, his room and belongings were searched and hundreds of ancient archaeological artifacts that were in his possession were seized. The suspect was questioned and later released.
The suspect had been under surveillance in the past week, during which it was discovered that he had continued selling antiquities to tourists.
In a combined operation Monday night, members of the Customs’ Drug Unit in Eilat, along with IAA inspectors, detained a group of tourists guided by the suspect at the Taba border crossing for a customs inspection, just moments before they left the country, on suspicion they committed a variety of offenses in violation of import and export directives, including the export of prohibited goods.
The customs officials and IAA inspectors were amazed to discover that about twenty members of the group possessed dozens of archaeological items that they purchased in Israel and planned to take out of the country illegally and without a permit.
Among the items discovered were ancient bronze and silver coins dating to the Second Temple period, clay oil lamps that were used 1,500 years ago in homes and ancient tombs in the Roman and Byzantine periods, various ancient glass vessels and pottery vessels. All of the archaeological items were allegedly stolen from tombs and antiquities sites within Israel.
The tourists were questioned and said that most of the items had been purchased from the tour guide on different occasions during their visit in Israel, for an amount totaling more than $20,000.
Late Monday night the American suspect himself was detained at Ben Gurion Airport as he was trying to leave Israel. A search of his belongings by officials of the Drug Unit of the Ben Gurion Airport Customs Authority, accompanied by inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, found ancient coins he was attempting to leave Israel with, without a permit, as well as evidence indicating that he had conducted dozens of illegal sales of antiquities during the past two weeks.
The man was interrogated by IAA inspectors on suspicion of committing offenses of trafficking in antiquities without a permit, the sale of suspected stolen antiquities and attempted illegal smuggling of antiquities from Israel.
The suspect admitted to the offenses and was subsequently allowed to fly to the United States, after he deposited a large bond.
“The sale of antiquities without a permit and the export of antiquities from Israel without permission are criminal offenses for which the penalty prescribed by law is up to three years imprisonment,” said Amir Ganor, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery. “Those buying antiquities from unauthorized dealers place themselves and their money at risk, purchase antiquities at exorbitant prices and are actually encouraging antiquities robbery and the plundering of the country’s history.”