In light of the upcoming close of the comment period for the Egyptian MOU, at least one in the archaeological blogosphere has engaged in a disinformation campaign to suggest that complying with MOUs is no big deal, and to imply that anyone saying otherwise is a liar.
Never mind that individual has presumably never tried to import cultural goods into the United States, nor is there any suggestion that he has consulted with anyone who has actually imported artifacts themselves or represented those who do.
In any case, this is how a former top Customs official described the process at a recent public forum in New York City:
One of the things that customs does when an object comes in from one of the 14 countries that has a bilateral agreement under the CPIA, the CPIA says that if an object is imported without a permit from the source country then the import can be allowed under the statute by providing “satisfactory information” that the object was out of the country before the imposition of the bilateral, or has been out of the country for more than ten years. And there are two paragraphs that quote what that satisfactory evidence consists of and what it should state. It was out of the country for 10 years prior to import - it was out of the country before the imposition of the bilateral, and so on. Just to show you what happens in that case. An affidavit that satisfies this should be sufficient for the piece to be released, but it is not. You can literally lift that language right out of the law and have your client sign an affidavit that attests to that. Because it states exactly what the statute requires it should be sufficient. The shipment should be released, right? No. The CPIA does not put limitations on customs and homeland security to stop asking for more. The agent or inspector comes back and says, I want more. They say, I don’t like that affidavit, give me another. I don’t know that person, give me one from another person. They continually ask for more and create, at a whim, what they want. The question is do you feed the government more? If you don’t give them more, they seize it. If you do give them more, they ask for more again. Maybe they are looking for you to establish that you made a false statement and take you down the path you never intended to go down. Then the case goes from civil to criminal. Don't forget that behind the scenes, any document you give them, they are sending collateral requests to the agents in foreign countries to verify the document. And if they can catch you with a false document or a false statement, intentionally or unintentionally now you have a criminal problem. There is no limitation on what is called quote unquote satisfactory evidence. I have a client who had an object seized in April 2011 – this is April 2014, and I still haven’t got it released. This could go on for another 30 years. Again, there is no limitation on what they can ask for and what is satisfactory evidence and that is what is wrong with the CPIA.
And this is how another customs law practitioner who has represented clients in the area has described the process at an earlier public forum in Washington, D.C.:
16 Generally speaking, the act requires that if you're
17 importing an object that could possibly be import restricted,
18 it can be imported if you can show that the object was
19 outside of the state party before the date the MOU was
20 signed. The act is clear that all that is required is a
21 statement from the exporter and a statement from the importer
22 confirming that the object was outside the state party before
1 the date the MOU was signed. That object is outside of the
2 act. The act is not retroactive.
3 The problem is that although the act is clear, and Jim
4 could probably speak to this better than me, it is my belief
5 that that was the negotiated settlement that because many
6 objects don't have a documented provenance, the affidavit or
7 the declarations would be enough to import the object without
8 any other information.
9 MR. FITZPATRICK: Ashton Hawkins spent a year on behalf
10 of the museum community negotiating that with the
11 archeologist community and with the State Department.
12 MR. MCCULLOUGH: And on the enforcement side, I could
13 tell you today that that requirement is ignored. The
14 declarations are collected. However, the importer is asked
15 to provide additional documentation supporting those
16 declarations, at least in the trade that's true. I don't
17 know if that's true in the museum community, but in the
18 trade, for dealers and collectors, they are required to show
19 documentary proof that the object was outside the country.
20 The declarations are not enough.
21 And last, on the ICE side, so we have CBP or the cargo
22 people who deal with the entry of the object at the time it
1 shows up at the airport. We then have Immigration and
2 Customs Enforcement, which is a law enforcement branch of
3 Homeland Security.
4 They are very aggressive. We've heard a lot of stories
5 of seizures, detainments. There has been a de facto sort of
6 rule at ICE that we seize first and we ask questions later.
So who is more believable? An archaeo-blogger with an axe to grind or those who have actually practiced in the area and have real, hands on experience?
So, sure, if you think complying with MOUs is no big deal and you will still be able to easily purchase coins for your collection, by all means take this archaeological blogger's advice and sit back and do nothing. On the other hand, if you are concerned about the prospect of new import restrictions on Egyptian cultural goods and the cumulative impact these and other import restrictions are having on our hobby, please comment to CPAC "prejudged" MOU or not by the May 14, 2014 close date.