Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Retired U.S. Academic Is Arrested in Israel on Suspicion of Antiquities Trafficking

A retired American college lecturer has been arrested in Israel on suspicion of trafficking in stolen antiquities and attempting to smuggle them out of the country.

John L. Lund, 70, a motivational speaker, author, and tour guide, was detained late Monday by Israeli customs and antiquities agents as he prepared to board a plane at Ben Gurion Airport. Mr. Lund is an expert on Egyptian history, is the author of How to Hug a Porcupine: Dealing With Toxic and Difficult to Love Personalities, and, according to his Web site, has lectured in history as an adjunct faculty member at universities in California, Idaho, Utah, and Washington.

A search of his belongings revealed a stash of ancient silver and bronze coins that he was attempting to take out of Israel without a permit, as well as $20,000 and other evidence from the illegal sales of ancient coins, clay oil lamps, and glass and pottery vessels, said a statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority. Mr. Lund had been acting as a guide to two groups touring Israel.

One of the items retrieved by officials was a rare Roman lamp bearing an incised decoration of a seven-branched menorah. Such items are not permitted to be taken abroad without an export license from the antiquities agency.

Mr. Lund was allowed to leave Israel after posting a bond of $7,500. Israeli police expect to file charges in the near future.

"The sale of antiquities without a permit and the export of antiquities from Israel without permission are criminal offenses for which the penalty prescribed by law is up to three years' imprisonment," said Amir Ganor, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, in the written statement.

Contacted by phone at his home in Utah, Mr. Lund categorically denied that he had trafficked in any stolen antiquities or attempted to smuggle any items out of the country. "I’m not trying to smuggle anything," he said.

He said he had brought coins, the inscribed oil lamp, and a few other items from his personal collection to use as visual aids for his lectures.

Agency officials said they were first alerted to Mr. Lund's alleged trafficking two weeks ago by a sale at a Jerusalem hotel where he offered items to a group of American tourists he was guiding. Mr. Lund was detained, and a search of his room revealed "hundreds of ancient archaeological artifacts in his possession, ... which had allegedly been stolen by antiquities robbers from different sites throughout the country," the agency said in the statement.

He was questioned and released, but officials continued their surveillance. "He resumed his evil ways and continued selling antiquities to tourists—this time to another group that arrived in Israel," said the Antiquities Authority.

On Monday officials searched the luggage of a group that had been guided by Mr. Lund as they prepared to cross the border from Eilat to Egypt. They found 20 of the group carrying dozens of illegally purchased archaeological items, including Roman-era bronze and silver coins, 1,500-year-old clay oil lamps, and ancient pottery and glass vessels. The items appeared to have been stolen from tombs and antiquities sites and most were allegedly purchased from Mr. Lund. The travelers were permitted to leave after the items were confiscated.

Mr. Lund said he had bought items from authorized dealers to pass on to the group at no profit and said that no one in the group had any stolen antiquities.

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