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There is a new development in a case involving ancient artifacts smuggled into the U.S. by the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby. Israeli authorities say they've arrested five Palestinians on suspicion of tax fraud and money laundering for sales of artifacts to Hobby Lobby. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: The owners of Hobby Lobby are among the world's biggest collectors of Bible-related antiquities. Early last month, Hobby Lobby agreed to pay $3 million and forfeit thousands of artifacts after American prosecutors said the artifacts were smuggled out of the Middle East. On Sunday, Israeli police said they arrested the five Palestinians who allegedly sold Hobby Lobby those and other artifacts for a grand total of some $20 million.
Police claim the dealers didn't report all the income to tax authorities. Ancient coin expert David Hendin of the American Numismatic Society says these are some of the biggest dealers in Jerusalem's thriving antiquities market.
DAVID HENDIN: You know the old story that Al Capone, the famous Chicago gangster, they couldn't get him on anything, but they finally got him on income tax. So you know, when they're going after people's taxes and their financial basis, then the Israeli authorities are showing that they really want to root out every illicit aspect of the business.
ESTRIN: Israeli police say they arrested the dealers following a joint investigation with U.S. authorities. They say the men are also suspected of issuing falsified invoices to Hobby Lobby's president, Steve Green. Police say they suspect the invoices were used for large tax write-offs and that the dealers were paid kickbacks. Hobby Lobby's role in that alleged scheme is unclear.
A Hobby Lobby spokesperson did not return a request for comment. A lawyer for one of the arrested antiquities dealers says he denies wrongdoing. The primary suspect in the case appears before a judge today. Israeli police say they're also looking to question Hobby Lobby's president. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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