This week the Wall Street Journal reported that Ali Aboutaam, a prominent antiquities dealer, pleaded guilty to illegally transporting ancient artifacts from various regions in the Middle East and to falsifying documents related to those artifacts.
In exchange for his plea, an 18-month suspended jail sentence was imposed by the Geneva Police Tribunal. Additionally, the court imposed a three-year probation term on Mr. Aboutaam and ordered him to pay 450,00 Swiss Francs (approximately $488,000) in legal costs.
It is illegal, under a 1970 UN convention, to trade antiquities in Europe without properly disclosing their country of origin. Moreover, in response to widespread looting in the Middle East by the Islamic State (ISIS), the U.N. Security Council has banned all antiquity trade between UN members and Syria or Iraqi.
According to the Wall Street Journal,
The Journal in 2017 reported that Mr. Aboutaam and his brother, Hicham, were under investigation by Swiss, Belgian and French authorities over whether they had handled Syrian and Iraqi objects looted under the auspices of the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS…. The charges against Ali Aboutaam in the Geneva court were an outgrowth of that 2017 investigation, according to a Swiss official familiar with the case. The Geneva court ruling said Ali Aboutaam relied on false documents to prove the origin of some of the artifacts he owned. He was also convicted of paying an intermediary between 2012 and 2016 to import antiquities into Switzerland, in breach of Swiss laws on the import of cultural goods.
Many of the items at issue in the case were returned to Mr. Aboutaam. And, according to his attorney, “He is very happy with the outcome.”