Israel accuses US man of antiquities trafficking

AP News
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Posted: May 18, 2011 8:22 AM
Israel accuses US man of antiquities trafficking

Israeli authorities have arrested a retired U.S. lecturer on suspicion of trafficking antiquities stolen from Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Tuesday.

The authority said it suspects John Lund, a 70-year-old tour guide from Utah, sold stolen artifacts to tour groups he led in Israel.

Lund was detained on Monday night at Israel's international airport as he was trying to leave the country, officials said.

The antiquities authority said in a statement that he had stolen ancient coins in his possession and checks totaling more than $20,000 believed to be from the illegal sales of ancient coins, clay oil lamps, and glass and pottery vessels.

Lund was allowed to leave after posting a $7,500 bond meant to guarantee he will return to stand trial, said Shai Bar Tura, deputy director of the authority's theft prevention unit. Bar Tura said formal charges are expected.

Antiquities officials discovered Lund selling artifacts at a lecture he gave in a Jerusalem hotel, Bar Tura said. They seized the items, searched him and his hotel room, where they found hundreds of artifacts, Bar Tura said.

Because all the items had been recovered and Lund was a tourist, "We thought it was appropriate to let him off with a warning," Bar Tura said. "But we kept our eyes open ... and sure enough, the guy kept on doing what he was told not to."

Officials at the Israeli border with Egypt examined the bags of members of a tour group he was leading recently, and discovered 50 stolen items that they said Lund sold to them, Bar Tura said.

An arrest warrant was issued, and he was picked up at the airport trying to leave Israel. In his possession officials found ancient coins and 70 checks written to him by tourists, Bar Tura said.

The authority's statement said Lund admitted the offenses attributed to him. A message left with the Utah tour operator where Lund works was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Bar Tura said Lund could face up to three years in jail if convicted.