Thursday, May 22, 2008

Behind the Scenes Consultations Between State and CAARI Potentially Compromise Decision to Impose Import Restrictions on Coins of Cypriot Type

The State Department had a legal and ethical obligation to act as an "honest broker" in deciding whether to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot types. However, the facts discovered to date suggest that the State Department failed to meet this basic obligation, and indeed, the State Department may have even stacked the deck in favor of a foreign power and its allies in the Cyprus American Archaeological Resarch Institute ("CAARI") before imposing import restrictions on coins of Cypriot types.

From the beginning, serious concerns have arisen about how the process of imposing import restrictions on coins unfolded. These included: (1) receipt of a request from Cyprus for new restrictions on coins after the period for public comment elapsed; (2) failure to publish notice of receipt of the request in the Federal Register as was done in the past; (3) public announcement of the request only at the CPAC hearing meant to address extension of other restrictions; (4) after complaint, provision of only 10 days for public comments; and (5) failure to recuse a CPAC member who is beholden to the Cypriot government for the right to continue to excavate on the Island from voting on the request.

Even limited discovery to date in the ACCG, IAPN and PNG FOIA litigation has raised further questions. First, as noted in a prior post, even with extensive redactions, it remains clear that the State Department only provided the decision maker with the false choice of continuing the current MOU adding coins or discontinuing the MOU in its entirety. See This false choice seriously undercuts the State Department's ability to claim that it administers the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act without favor to one side.

In addition, it now also clear that the State Department consulted with a CAARI-affiliated archaeologist about restrictions on coins of Cypriot type-- EVEN BEFORE Cyprus asked the State Department to amend the MOU to include coins. The e-mail chain in question is heavily redacted. Nevertheless, from what was produced, it appears likely that the State Department was shopping for an "expert opinion" that State could legally impose import restrictions because it could be reasonably assumed that all unprovenanced coins of Cypriot type were illicitly removed from the ground in Cyprus. Of course, the numismatic community contested the claim that Cypriot coins did not circulate beyond the Island. Instead, they argued that published hoard evidence showed that one could not assume-- as is required under the CPIA-- that unprovenanced coins of Cypriot type were first found in the ground of Cyprus. Indeed, such coins have been found as far and wide as Egypt and Afghanistan. As such, they argued that it would be inappropriate to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type.

There is no evidence that the State Department consulted with academics associated with neutral bodies like the ANS or the British Museum on this subject. As such, the State Department's reliance on an expert associated with CAARI belies any claim that the State Department only sought an unbiased version of the facts. Unfortunately, such reliance on a CAARI affiliated archaeologist appears all too consistent with State Department bias in favor of the archaeological community, which, after all, is heavily involved in the institution to institution cultural exchanges the State Department favors. Indeed, further review of CAARI's own newsletters suggests the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has had a long history of collaborating with CAARI. Apparently, ECA support has even included the provision of Fulbright grants to CAARI to carry out its work.

Educational exchanges are one thing. Actively working against the interests of collectors and the small businesses of the US numismatic trade is another thing altogether. In particular, it is also clear that CAARI -- which relies on the good graces of Cyprus to operate on the Island-- also has acted as a facilitator for Cypriot officials to plead their case for import restrictions on cultural artifacts. Thus, in 2005, CAARI VP Ellen Herscher organized consultations between the Cyprus Director of Antiquities Pavlos Florentzos and Maria Kouroupas and Andrew Cohen of the U.S. State Department's Cultural Heritage Center. See CAARI News, Winter 2oo6, at 3.

CAARI can certainly "lobby" the State Department within the provisions of US law. On the other hand, any State Department decision to reject CPAC's recommendations based on CAARI's self-interested support of a foreign power only raises additional questions about not only the fairness of the State Department's decision making, but its potential legality as well. Again, hopefully, we will learn more as the ACCG, IAPN and PNG FOIA lawsuit moves to its conclusion.

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