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State Department wins court case

A test case pitting the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild against the United States State Department has ended in a decision favoring the seizure by the government of ancient coins being imported by the ACCG.


On Oct. 15, Kate FitzGibbon of the Committee for Cultural Policy reported the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has affirmed U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s original seizure of the coins. The 15 coins in question in U.S. versus Three Knife-Shaped Coins, etc., were issued by China and Cyprus.

FitzGibbon wrote, “The Cypriot and Chinese coins had no solid provenance, a traceable history of ownership, or place of origin, which is typical of coins on the market.”

The coins were first detained and then officially seized upon their arrival in Baltimore in April 2009. About a year later, the ACCG brought an action against the government in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The government sought a forfeiture action on April 22, 2013.

The ACCG goal of the test case was to challenge the State Department’s actions the ACCG interpreted as “going far beyond the definitions and requirements set by Congress for import restrictions under the U.S.’s only deliberately crafted and comprehensive international cultural property legislation,” according to FitzGibbon.

FitzGibbon said the original seizure of the coins was affirmed while in her opinion “promoting ease of enforcement over due process and the legal requirements in the original legislation,” continuing, “the ruling effectively lessens the government’s burden of proof to show that objects were unlawfully imported, a consequence Congress sought to avoid in the original legislation.”

FitzGibbon explained, “The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property contemplates that the nations that sign it will assist each other in enforcing export controls on cultural goods. The UNESCO Convention covers archaeological objects found on national territory, not archaeological objects that traveled in ancient times, and are found on other nations’ lands.” (The ACCG imported the coins from England.)

She noted the U.S. is one of the few countries that has made this into a domestic law. Restrictions initially meant to cover artifacts originating in poor countries were expanded in 2000 through a Memorandum of Understand with Italy. Restrictions eventually became all encompassing, with what had been a five-year MOU being renewed into what has become a 30-year restriction on imports. Cypriot coin restrictions were added beginning in 2007.

ACCG founder Wayne Sayles said, “When Congress enacted CCPIA in 1983 they mandated the criteria for imposition of import restrictions on cultural property. The court needs to confirm that clear mandate and serve the cause of justice through rule of law. We hope to give them that opportunity.”

Peter Tompa is a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents the ACCG and is an ACCG member. Tompa said, “Fighting to keep the burden of proof on the government where it belongs under the statute and our constitutional notions of a presumption of innocence are worth the effort, even if the court only decides to conduct a review of one to two percent of the petitions put before it.”

The ACCG will file a Petition for Writ of Certiorari asking the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision, according to Tompa.

FitzGibbon cautioned it should “alarm all U.S. stakeholders in cultural property matters from collectors to art dealers to museums, archaeologists and academics, that the courts were so willing to gloss over the State Department’s failure to honor the careful balance that Congress built into the Cultural Property Implementation Act.”

This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.

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