Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Look Hard Before You Leap

Here is what I planned to say during today's CPAC meeting.  My actual comments were somewhat abbreviated:

          I am here to ask that you look hard before you leap to approve yet another round of MOUs with authoritarian MENA governments.  Yemen is a particularly troubling case with an ongoing civil war.  The Hadi government has been propped up by Saudi Arabia.  It is undisputed that Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners are complicit in intentionally destroying cultural sites, including bombing the Dhamar museum.  The other major party, the Houthis, are Iranian proxies.  The Hadi Government has accused the Houthi of doing most of the looting in the country, but if that is true wouldn’t that also mean any looted material is going to Iran, not here?  In any case, the net result of any MOU with Yemen will be repatriating artifacts (that may or not have been in Yemen for decades) back to a war zone.  A MOU with Morocco raises a different issue—is the patrimony of Morocco really in jeopardy or is this just a case where another MENA government has been promised the same treatment as its neighbor, Algeria.  The information that has been provided about a shadowy seizure in France, a few images of what purport to be Moroccan cultural items on Facebook, and even an article that links treasure hunting to sorcery fall well below the quantum of evidence required.
            As to coins, let me make the following points.
·        There are large numbers of coin collectors and numismatic firms in the US.  Very few collectors do so to “invest.”  Most collect out of love of history, as an expression of their own cultural identity, or out of interest in other cultures.  All firms that specialize in ancient coins in the US are small businesses.
·        Private collectors and dealers support much academic research into coins.  For example, a German collector and a curator at the American Numismatic Society collaborated to produce, “Coinage of the Caravan Kingdoms,” an extensive study which includes research into the coinage of ancient Yemen.  A clamp down on collecting will inevitably lead to less scholarship.
·        While what became the CPIA was being negotiated, one of the State Department’s top lawyers assured Congress that “it would be hard to imagine a case” where coins would be restricted.   In 2007, however, the State Department imposed import restrictions on Cypriot coins, against CPAC’s recommendations, and then misled the public and Congress about it in official government reports.  What also should be troubling is that the decision maker, Assistant Secretary Dina Powell, did so AFTER she had accepted a job with Goldman Sachs where she was recruited by and worked for the spouse of the Antiquities Coalition’s founder.  Since that time, additional import restrictions have been imposed on coins from Algeria, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Libya and Syria. 
·        The cumulative impact of import restrictions has been very problematical for collectors since outside of some valuable Greek coins, most coins simply lack the document trail necessary for legal import under the “safe harbor” provisions of 19 U.S.C. § 2606.
·        It is probably too late to change history, but even at this late date, the problems facing coin collectors could be ameliorated if CPAC works with Customs to ensure the CPIA is applied as written.
o   The CPIA only authorizes the government to impose import restrictions on coins and other artifacts first discovered within and subject to the export control of either Morocco or Yemen. (19 U.S.C. § 2601). Furthermore, seizure is only appropriate for items on the designated list exported from the State Party after the effective date of regulations.  (19 U.S.C. § 2606).  Unfortunately, the State Department and Customs view this authority far more broadly.  In particular, designated lists have been prepared based on where coins are made and sometimes found, not where they are actually found and hence are subject to export control.  Furthermore, restrictions are not applied prospectively solely to illegal exports made after the effective date of regulations, but rather are enforced against any import into the U.S. made after the effective date of regulations, i.e., an embargo, not targeted, prospective import restrictions.
o   The State Department will no doubt point to a 4th Circuit case as support for its procedures, but it is important to recognize this decision was ultimately predicated on the view that the Court should not interfere with what it considered to be a “foreign policy matter.” That of course has no bearing on CPAC recommending that State and Customs do the right thing and ensure any restrictions that may be advocated are properly phrased to only apply to coins illicitly removed after the effective date of regulations.  As referenced in our papers, Congress mandated a similar formulation under Syrian import restrictions.  Thank you. 

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