Opinion

Lobbyist Misleads on Islamic State Antiquities Trafficking

Dura Europos (2nd April 2014): until September 2014, rebel territory; currently, under Islamic State control - DigitalGlobe via U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
Dura Europos (2nd April 2014): until September 2014, rebel territory; currently, under Islamic State control (image via DigitalGlobe/U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs)

When Hyperallergic debunked antiquities trade representative Ursula Kampmann’s supposed debunking of intelligence on Islamic State antiquities trafficking, ancient coin collector and lobbyist Peter Tompa tried to debunk Hyperallergic in turn.

The false statements and attacks on researchers and reporters are emblematic of a longer, wider campaign against antiquities trade regulation. Notably, the campaign has included efforts by collectors and dealers to minimize Iraqi export and American import restrictions before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. But it has also encompassed attempts to end or prevent even limited restrictions on imports of cultural property from Bulgaria, China, Afghanistan, Mali, Egypt, and elsewhere.

The campaign has even involved overtly illegal imports of coins from China and Cyprus by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) — and subsequent court appeals backed by the American Committee for Cultural Policy (ACCP), the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA), the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN), the American Numismatic Association (ANA), Ancient Coins for Education (ACE), and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG). Tompa has been president of the ACCG and represented the IAPN and the PNG, and is a life member of the ANA. Kampmann has been the Secretary of the IAPN and is the Cultural Property Commissioner for the IADAA.

Despite significant evidence of paramilitary funding from antiquities trafficking around the world and, thus, genuine potential for market regulation to cut that funding, registered trade lobbyist Tompa has accused “the archaeological lobby” of making “wild claims” and “cynically exploiting the rise of the ISIS terrorist group in Iraq to try to justify a further clamp down on collectors” or “to suppress all trade in undocumented artifacts.”

Furthermore, Tompa has used destruction during the war in Mali to justify the argument that “it would not seem to be the best time to reauthorize import restrictions” on its cultural property and destruction in the wars in Syria and Iraq to query whether cultural property would be “better burned then [sic] smuggled” — in other words, to imply that it would be better smuggled than burned. Such arguments are founded on a false premise, because “the smuggling pays for the burning.” Paramilitary trafficking funds paramilitary violence.

Those with vested interests in unregulated trade have a history of making seemingly “co-ordinated attacks” on cultural heritage professionals and institutions and false claims in cultural policy discussions in order to advance their cause. Indeed, in relation to the overtly illegal antiquities import case, archaeologist David Gill was concerned: “Are ‘false claims’ being deliberately planted by some of the North American coin-collecting community as part of the background to the test case over the coins seized at Baltimore?”

Despite previous correction, Tompa repeated his allegation that the author had “hype[d]” the Guardian claim of Islamic State income of thirty six million dollars from antiquities trafficking in an op-ed for Reuters. Yet the op-ed stated that the figure had been claimed by Iraqi intelligence but not verified.

Tompa concluded by alleging that Hyperallergic had “claim[ed] that German media ha[d] verified the [$36m] figure in response to a critical report in a German numismatic publication” and “jumped on the $36 million bandwagon.”

In fact, Hyperallergic responded to numismatic journalist-trade representative Ursula Kampmann’s comment on investigative journalist Jason Felch’s blog. It demonstrated that she had falsely stated that SZ, NDR and WDR’s investigation had reviewed all of the data on the 162 USBs and falsely implied that their investigation had disproved the Guardian’s report. Likewise, Tompa’s attempted debunking was demonstrably false. Hyperallergic had explicitly stated that “verification specifically of the antiquities trafficking data is still absolutely necessary.”

Such interference disrupts professional analysis, misleads public understanding and thereby impedes the development and implementation of regulation that would protect both vulnerable communities from plunder and ethical collectors from being made complicit in plunder.

Nonetheless, research continues. And another (forthcoming) German media investigation, this time by 12  journalists in seven countries for die Zeit, may scupper the Guardian report — as well as other claims concerning the antiquities trade in Syria and Iraq — once and for all.

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Editorial note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Peter Tompa was a dealer, when in fact he is a collector. We apologize for the error.

Peter Tompa would like Hyperallergic to emphasize that the ‘overtly illegal imports of coins’ mentioned in the article were for purposes of securing ‘standing’ in order to pursue a legal challenge to import restrictions on coins of the sort widely and legally collected worldwide.

Peter Tompa would like Hyperallergic to emphasize this piece reflects Dr. Hardy’s opinions about Peter Tompa and his lobbying activities on behalf of the small businesses of the numismatic trade and collectors. Tompa would like Hyperallergic to emphasize the alleged ‘overtly illegal imports of coins’  mentioned in the article were for purposes of securing ‘standing’ in order to pursue a legal challenge to import restrictions on collectors’ coins of ‘the sort widely and legally collected worldwide.’ The historical coins that were imported for purposes of the test case were properly declared to US Customs before seizure.

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