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All Posts Tagged With: "Coin Imports"

Ancient Coins: Freedom of Information and New Import Restrictions sought on Greek “Cultural Property”

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting Blog

Comments related to issues of cultural property management

The Freedom of Information Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966, was born from the notion that “the people” (as in each individual citizen) have a constitutional right to know how the government acts in their behalf. This is of course a democratic notion that nationalist governments do not share. One might wonder at times if it is a notion that the U.S. Government shares?

FOIA has been amended and altered in its execution by Executive Branch order or parallel legislation many times during the past 24 years. While a forest of trees have been exterminated in filling FOIA requests, the amount of information provided to the public has been a matter of constant and continuous concern and variability. What the situation boils down to, in a nutshell, is that the Executive Branch of the U.S. government releases eactly and only what it wants to release and when it wants to release it. The public often is obligated to fight in the courts for the most innocuous of details about some item or action of interest.

Filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit is an adventure in frustration—fraught with government impediments. The prosecution of a simple suit can be delayed by repeated government requests for extensions of time and the excruciatingly slow pace of the legal system in general. Then, the ultimate judgement is not always a black and white reflection of law. Political persuasion is not a stranger to the bench, and the outcome of litigation can depend, it seems, nearly as much on luck of the draw as on the merit of arguments presented. The consequence of this cumbersome review process is that the impetus for a request may well be moot by the time a judgement is rendered. The suit itself is sometimes more important, as a statement of dissatisfaction with government, and demand for accountability, than the material that might conceivably be released.

Why should any person, or organization, have to endure the trials and tribulations of litigation against their government to affirm basic rights promised by the law of the land?

The cause of this pervasive and untenable attitude of secrecy and unresponsiveness in American government is its very structure. Law is rightly regarded by the Legislative Branch as a means to assure rights and protections. Elected officials within the Executive Branch typically espouse a similar view. However, neither elected officials nor political appointees are directly involved in the execution and enforcement of law. This key, and often most important, element of any law is delegated to an army of bureaucrats that are directly responsible for that part where the rubber meets the road. The technical authority of politically appointed Secretaries and Undersecretaries, etc., means little in a world of revolving doors. Just as bureaucratic agencies can drag an issue on in the courts for years, they also can “stonewall” the most ardent elected or appointed official with relative ease and virtual impunity. The judiciary often seems, perhaps understandably, reluctant to serve as the nation’s guardian against government excess. (more…)

Testimony at the Cultural Property Advisory Committee Hearing: To Be or Not To Be

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting

That is the Question on everyone’s mind this morning as the Cultural Property Advisory Committee reconvened on Friday to consider the extension of a bilateral agreement with Italy that restricts the importation of certain classes of antiquities into the United States. Thursday morning, the committee heard comments in open public session from representatives of five main groups of concerned citizens—Archaeologists, Museum Administrators, Art and Antiquity Collectors, the Numismatic Trade and Ancient Coin Collectors.

From the numismatic community’s perspective, extension of the current Memorandum Of Understanding in some form seems a foregone conclusion, though some opponents argued very persuasively that the whole MOU is badly flawed and should be scrapped. The pressing issue for coin collectors is whether the addition of coins, already exempted in two previous five-year terms of the MOU, is to be or not to be.

In an era when politicians on both sides of the aisle are clamoring for transparent government and “sunshine” laws offer a promise of fair play and access, the U.S. State Department doggedly maintains its “distance” from the looking glass of public scrutiny.

None of the seven speakers from the numismatic community had the foggiest notion whether Italy had even requested that coins should be added—an ironic situation, since the State Department hearing was held in that part of Washington known as “Foggy Bottom.”

Unlike the mysterious Chinese request some years ago, one might presume, from the comments of Mr. Stefano De Caro, General Director of Antiquities within the Italian Ministry of Culture, that Italy did indeed ask for the addition of coins—even though the State Department ignored direct requests for an answer to that question.

Sebastian Heath, whose affiliation was vague and was actually the point of a followup question by one committee member, was listed by the State Department as an American Institute of Archaeology representative. He claimed, upon pressing of the point, that he actually represented himself. The fact that Heath often works for or at the American Numismatic Society, and personally participated in drafting the ANS statement on cultural property, was questioned in light of his recommendation that coins be added to the MOU.

The ANS statement says, in part, “…..within the world of artifacts, coins as a class do, in fact, stand apart.” Heath avoided the apparent conflict of positions by stating repeatedly that to his knowledge the ANS takes no position in the issue. It would have been interesting to see that question explored in some depth, but Mr. Heath mercifully escaped being hoist with his own petard for lack of time in the busy agenda. (more…)

Ancient Coin Collectors Challenge U.S. State Dept. Bureaucrats After Baltimore Seizure

A small packet of inexpensive Chinese and Cypriot coins imported from England by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) have been seized by Customs in Baltimore, Maryland.

coin_import_banThe coins were imported to test the legitimacy of State Department (DOS) imposed import restrictions via two Memoranda of Understanding (MOU). ACCG maintains that actions of DOS relating to implementation of the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) have been secretive, arbitrary and capricious and will contest the seizure in the U.S. Federal District Court in Baltimore.

Information from another Freedom of Information Act lawsuit suggests that the DOS failed to follow the recommendations of its own experts on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in extending restrictions to Cypriot coins, and then misled Congress about this decision. Other information implicates DOS bureaucrats adding coins to the Chinese MOU even though Chinese officials never asked for their inclusion.

The Obama Administration has promised transparency and accountability in government. ACCG hopes its challenge to the ban on ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins will lead the Court also to address these and other concerns about the process for imposing import restrictions on cultural goods.

During a 2008 International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) discussion, former CPAC Chairperson Jay Kislak (2003-2008) said, “I am not necessarily against any actions that were taken on any of the MOU’s which were recommended by the Committee and put into action. I am, however, opposed to the way it is done because I think it is absolutely, completely, un-American, and I don’t mind saying that. Not anywhere in our government do we do things this way, except with this group.”

Kislak also addressed government transparency by saying, “In every other branch of government, there is disclosure, and information is made public. We have a democracy, and it is government of the people, for the people, by the people, not by the bureaucrats over them.”
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