A few important omissions in Jeremy Kahn’s “Coin Dealers Sue State Dept. for Details on Import Bans” in the New York Times, on November 17, 2007 should be pointed out:
In the article, Mr. Kahn claimed, “It was the first time the government had barred trade in a broad category of ancient coins…” But this is not true. While the US/Cyprus bilateral agreement does represent the first time that ancient coins have been subject to temporary import restrictions under the Cultural Property Implementation Act, coins have been subject to government-mandated import restrictions for many years in other contexts. For example, Executive Order 12722, which prohibits the importation of ancient coins from Iraq, went into effect on August 2, 1990. This order has been renewed several times, e.g., see section 4 of the renewal dated July 29, 2004. This prohibition remains in effect. In addition, antiquities, coins and other artifacts of Iranian origin have also been subject to trade restrictions for a number of years; importing such items to the U.S. is currently prohibited, and the US Customs and/or the Department of Justice does confiscate such items. In addition, according to the US Customs and Border Protection’s website, “gold coins … originating in or brought from Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Serbia, and Sudan are prohibited entry” under regulations administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Mr. Kahn wrongly characterizes import restrictions on Cypriot coins as a sweeping ban. For example, the photo caption in the article reads: “Importing Cypriot coins like this one is now banned.” But according to the U.S. Federal Register, the coins restricted from entering the US under the bilateral agreement are quite specific and listed as:
Coins of Cypriot types made of gold, silver, and bronze including but not limited to:
1. Issues of the ancient kingdoms of Amathus, Kition, Kourion, Idalion, Lapethos, Marion, Paphos, Soli, and Salamis dating from the end of the 6th century B.C. to 332 B.C.
2. Issues of the Hellenistic period, such as those of Paphos, Salamis, and Kition from 332 B.C. to c. 30 B.C.
3. Provincial and local issues of the Roman period from c. 30 B.C. to 235 A.D. Often these have a bust or head on one side and the image of a temple (the Temple of Aphrodite at Palaipaphos) or statue (statue of Zeus Salaminios) on the other.
Coins minted in Cyprus outside of the categories specified are not affected. In addition, no import ban exists for these types of coins, or any coin of Cypriot type, if the coin is accompanied by a valid export permit from the Government of Cyprus. Any bona fide museum, university or organization with a need to access and study Cypriot coins, can apply to the Cyprus government for a long-term loan, as described in Section 27 (subsections 1 and 2) of the Cyprus Antiquities Law.
The State Department operates under the provisions of the Cultural Property Implementation Act, the enabling legislation passed on January 12, 1983 and amended December 22, 1987, which implements into US law the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (UNESCO 1970). As parties to the Convention, Cyprus and the US, as well as more than 100 countries, have agreed to abide by Article 1(e), which includes under the definition of Cultural Property subject to protection, “antiquities more than one hundred years old, such as inscriptions, coins and engraved seals”. Parties to the Convention have also agreed to abide by Article 9: “Any State Party to this Convention whose cultural patrimony is in jeopardy from pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials may call upon other States Parties … to participate in a concerted international effort to determine and to carry out the necessary concrete measures, including the control of exports and imports and international commerce in the specific materials concerned. Pending agreement each State concerned shall take provisional measures to the extent feasible to prevent irremediable injury to the cultural heritage of the requesting State.”
In other words, the US-Cyprus bilateral agreement is fully in keeping with an international legal mechanism that has been in place for decades.
To describe the import restrictions of ancient Cypriot coins without including the proper background information and circumstances does not serve the purpose of pursuing “greater disclosure”, reportedly the basis for bringing the lawsuit. Context does matter. We believe the public deserves better from The New York Times.
As for the lawsuit itself, the 15-page complaint speaks for itself. But consider this fact: it costs as little as $100/month to hire an archaeological site guard; an FOIA attorney in Washington, D.C. typically receives $400 per hour, or more, to sue the federal government.