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All Posts Tagged With: "State Department"

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…)

Collectors Claim Bias Epitomizes State Department Advisory Committee Management

Kerry Wetterstrom, representing the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, opposed adding U.S. import restrictions on coins at a Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) hearing November 13, 2009. The occasion was an interim review of a Memorandum of Understanding with Italy. Wetterstrom, publisher/editor of The Celator, wrote in his latest editorial:

accg_cyp_chi_coins“This was the first such hearing that I have attended, and it was an interesting, albeit a bit frustrating, experience. I came away from this hearing with the strong belief that the odds are against the ancient coin collecting community in receiving a ‘fair shake’ from the U.S. Department of State, specifically its Cultural Heritage Center office, at these CPAC hearings.

“The three speakers representing collectors and dealers were invited to speak first, each speaker was limited to five minutes, and we were informed that this would be strictly enforced…

“…though I entered the hearing with a bit of trepidation, the hearing’s casual atmosphere had a calming effect on my nerves. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to finish reading the two-page statement that I had prepared, and after answering a couple of questions from the committee, I walked back to my seat thinking that this was the fastest five minutes I had ever experienced. Later, several people commented to me that they believed I had been cut off before the end of my allotted time.”

Other speakers, who advocate import restrictions on coins, were reportedly allowed to exceed the published time limit with comments ranging up to 30 minutes. Wetterstrom concluded that, “Based on this experience, I now know that the best option that the ancient coin collecting community has for a ‘fair hearing,’… is through the court system…” (more…)

Ruling in FOIA case condones DOS intransigence on ancient coin import restrictions

A long-awaited ruling fails to address serious issues within the U.S. State Department bureaucracy.

accg_cyp_chi_coinsUS District Court Judge Richard Leon—well known for his pro-government views—has issued a ruling upholding the State Department’s refusal to disclose information about the controversial decisions to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot and Chinese type. The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and the other Plaintiffs in this suit remain committed to seeking transparency and accountability from the State Department (DOS) bureaucracy and are considering whether to appeal this ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Despite the disappointing decision, this litigation was in many ways a win for the plaintiffs. The mere fact that ACCG and the other Plaintiffs brought this FOIA action forced the State Department to process all the Plaintiff’s FOIA requests–including some that had been ignored by DOS for as much as three years. As a result of this action, literally hundreds of pages of requested text were released and the State Department was prompted to produce documents implicating high level political interference as the reason for the Cypriot decision. Other information stemming from this litigation suggests that State Department personnel added coins to the Chinese request without a formal request from China for that inclusion. The decision rendered by Judge Leon dealt with those items still remaining on the plaintiff’s list that DOS had refused to release. While the plaintiffs obviously would have been happier with a summary judgment on their motion, the process was not without considerable rewards.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild still plans to pursue a test case regarding whether those import restrictions were promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious fashion. A copy of Judge Leon’s Memorandum Opinion can be found here.

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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