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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

No Lawsuit for Seizure of Chinese & Cypriot Coins

(CN) - The 4th Circuit refused to revive claims that a federal ban on trafficking culturally significant objects unfairly prevented the importation of rare coins.

There is a long history behind domestic efforts to thwart the theft, clandestine excavation and illicit export of articles that are culturally significant to other countries.

Back in 1970, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization first promulgated voluntary rules for restricting the importation of these items. The U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to ratification of the rules in 1972, and Congress passed the Cultural Property Implementation Act, or CPIA, 10 years later. President Reagan signed it into law in 1983.

The CPIA allows the U.S. government to place import restrictions on designated articles of cultural property at the request of another party to the U.N. convention.

Although the statute confers CPIA functions to the president and secretary of the Treasury, the authority to act in practice has been passed to the assistant secretary of state for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild sued that official along with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State over the seizure of Chinese and Cypriot coins it had been trying to import in 2009 via air cargo.

It had bought these 23 ancient coins from a numismatic dealer in London.

Documentation provided by the dealer allegedly assured that "each coin was minted in Cyprus or China;" that "each coin had no recorded provenance;" and that the "find spot" for each coin was "unknown."

The CPIA agreement between the U.S. and Cyprus specifically placed certain "Coins of Cypriot Types" on the list of restricted items. The U.S. and China entered into a similar agreement, protecting "Chinese archaeological material from the Paleolithic to the Qing Dynasty."

After seizing the 23 coins, the government informed the guild that it needed certain evidence for return of the goods. It asked for evidence that each coin was lawfully exported from its respective state while CPIA restrictions were in effect, that they were exported from their respective states more than 10 years before they arrived in the United States, or that they were exported from their respective states before the CPIA restrictions went into effect.

The guild declined to provide the documentation and filed suit after the government initiated forfeiture proceedings.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake in Baltimore, Md., dismissed the complaint, which alleged violations of the Administrative Procedure Act and the First and Fifth Amendments.

A Richmond, Va.-based panel of the 4th Circuit affirmed Monday.

"The federal judiciary has not been generally empowered to second-guess the Executive Branch in its negotiations with other nations over matters of great importance to their cultural heritage, to overrule CPAC in its conclusion that import restrictions on coins were necessary to protect the cultural patrimonies of Cyprus and China, or to challenge Congress in its decision to channel CPIA disputes through forfeiture proceedings," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote for a three-judge panel.

The judges added that "judicial interference would be especially problematic because Congress has already prescribed civil forfeiture as a vehicle through which importers can challenge the seizure and detention of articles allegedly covered by CPIA restrictions."

"Here, forfeiture proceedings were placed on hold pending the outcome of this litigation, and the Guild may sill pursue various forfeiture defense to obtain release of the articles it attempted to import," the 22-page decision states.

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