Sunday, March 28, 2010

Voice of Greece on Cyprus Coin Lawsuit

I recently became aware of this story on a website called "Voice of Greece." See

The report states:


State Department sued over Cypriot coins
Σύνταξη/επιμέλεια από τον/την Θεόφιλος Δουμάνης

Washington – Cyprus may frequently complain about the US’s negative stance concerning the Cyprus dispute, but judging from the lawsuit filed against the State Department by the American organisation, Collectors of Ancient Coins Association, the opposite is true. They maintain that the State Department’s decision to extend restrictions on the import of ancient coins from Cyprus serves political expediencies and was influenced by the Cypriot government and its services, the Cypriot lobby in the United States and major Cypriot organisations like the Bank of Cyprus.

So, last week they sued the State Department, calling for the abolition of restrictions on coins from Cyprus and China, also demanding the return of 23 coins (seven of them Cypriot) which were confiscated last year by American authorities.

Comment: The State Department has been accused in the past of using import restrictions as a quid pro quo for other issues. In this particular case, it appears that former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns could not give Greek and Greek Cypriots advocacy groups what they really want-- unqualified support for their position on the divided Island. On the other hand, Burns could easily dictate that the these groups receive import restrictions on ancient Cypriot coins, no matter what procedures had to be broken in the process.

State would have likely viewed import restrictions as a "no cost" concession at the time. Moreover, import restrictions on coins would certainly garner applause from an important stakeholder as far as the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is concerned--namely the archaeological community. Certainly, State does not have to enforce such unpopular restrictions-- U.S. Customs does. Nor do State or archaeologists have to live by them -- collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade do. So, from a State perspective, why not?

As it turns out, however, State's actions have only prompted a lawsuit. Of course, the real cost of that lawsuit to State is yet to be seen. But, at least State Department decision makers can no longer assume import restrictions are a "no cost" concession. Hence, at a minimum, there should be less of an incentive to violate the law just to throw a bone to foreign interests State cannot really please anyway.

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