During the past two weeks an extensive campaign was undertaken to prevent the illicit trafficking in antiquities excavated and plundered from archaeological sites.

In an operation in Jerusalem conducted by the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, an American tour guide was identified while selling antiquities to a group of American tourists he was leading in Israel.
Inspectors from the Israel Antiquities Authority were present at one of the sales that took place in a hotel. Upon conclusion of the sale the suspect was detained, his room and belongings were searched and hundreds of ancient archaeological artifacts in his possession were seized, which had allegedly been stolen by antiquities robbers from different sites throughout the country.

The suspect, a retired American university lecturer and expert on Egyptian history and culture, was questioned and released at the end of the investigation.

During the past week the suspect was the subject of undercover surveillance during which it turns out he resumed his evil ways and continued selling antiquities to tourists – this time to another group that arrived in Israel.

Monday a wide-sweeping, combined operation was conducted in Eilat and Ben Gurion airport. Members of the Customs’ Drug Unit in Eilat, in accordance with their authority, and with assistance from inspectors of the Israel Antiquities Authority, detained a group of tourists guided by the suspect at the Taba border crossing for a customs inspection just moments before they left the country, on suspicion they committed a variety of offenses in violation of import and export directives, including the export of prohibited goods.

The Eilat customs officials and Antiquities Authority inspectors were amazed to discover that about twenty members of the group possessed dozens archaeological items purchased in Israel illicitly, which they attempted to take out of the country illegally and without a permit.

The items included: ancient bronze and silver coins dating to the Second Temple period (approximately 2,000 years ago), clay oil lamps that were used 1,500 years ago in homes and ancient tombs in the Roman and Byzantine periods, various ancient glass vessels and pottery vessels. All of the archaeological items were allegedly stolen from tombs and antiquities sites in the State of Israel. Upon questioning the tourists it turns out most of the items were purchased from the tour guide on different occasions during their visit in Israel, for an amount totaling more than 20,000 dollars. All of the ancient artifacts were seized as legal exhibits.

Late Monday night the American suspect himself was detained at Ben Gurion airport while trying to leave Israel. During a search of his belongings by officials of the Drug Unit of the Ben Gurion airport customs authority, accompanied by inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, he was found to be in possession of ancient coins he was attempting to leave Israel with, without a permit, as well as evidence indicating dozens of illegal sales of antiquities during the past two weeks.
The man was interrogated by inspectors of the Israel Antiquities Authority on suspicion of committing offenses of trafficking in antiquities without a permit, the sale of suspected stolen antiquities and attempted illegal smuggling of antiquities from Israel.
The suspect admitted the offenses ascribed to him and at the conclusion of the investigation was allowed to fly to the United States after he deposited a large bond that will ensure he will show up for trial in Israel in the future.

According to Amir Ganor, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, “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. Those buying antiquities from unauthorized dealers place themselves and their money at risk, purchase antiquities at exorbitant prices and are actually encouraging antiquities robbery and the plundering of the country’s history”.