At least 15 paintings, gold-plated firearms, ornamental knives,
bonds and other items have been seized at airports in Washington,
Boston and London in the last week, according to the Bureau of
Customs and Border Protection. Items seized in the military case
were flown to Fort Stewart, Ga.
"These seizures should serve as a warning to anyone who would
take advantage of the transition currently under way in the newly
liberated Iraq (news
sites)," Commissioner Robert Bonner said.
Benjamin James Johnson, who worked as an engineer for Fox News
Channel, is the only person charged or identified by the government.
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria,
Va., charges Johnson tried to bring 12 paintings into the United
States last Thursday. They were contained in a large cardboard box
that was examined by Customs agents at Dulles International Airport
An affidavit filed with the criminal complaint says that Johnson,
who accompanied U.S. troops in Baghdad, gathered up the paintings at
a palace that belonged to Odai Hussein, one of Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein (news
sites)'s sons. The paintings depict Saddam and Odai.
An examination of Johnson's luggage also turned up 40 Iraqi
Monetary Bonds and a visitor's badge from the U.S. embassy in
Kuwait. Johnson, 27, of Alexandria, Va., has not been arrested but
is to appear before a federal magistrate next Tuesday.
Johnson initially told Customs officials he was given the
paintings by Iraqi citizens, then said he had planned to keep them
"for decoration" and to provide one to his employer, the affidavit
said. It is U.S. policy that all such items belong to the Iraqi
Johnson worked for six years as a satellite truck engineer for
Fox, which fired him after learning he had acknowledged taking the
paintings, a network statement said.
"This is an unfortunate incident and his supervisor took the
appropriate action for this transgression," the statement said.
Museums, businesses, government offices and homes were looted in
Baghdad and other cities after the fall of Saddam's regime. Among
the items stolen were thousands of artworks and other antiquities,
some thousands of years old, from Iraq's vast collections of items
from Assyrian, Mesopotamian, Sumerian and other cultures.
Customs bureau officials said an unidentified U.S. serviceman
attempted to ship a rifle, pistol, and AK-47 assault rifle � all
gold-plated � taken from an Iraqi government facility to a military
base in the United States. The items were seized last Friday at
London's Heathrow Airport.
Customs officials in Boston said they confiscated several
souvenirs, including a painting, from Boston Herald reporter Jules
Crittenden when he returned Saturday from Kuwait. A spokeswoman for
the U.S. attorney's office in Boston said the decision was made not
to charge Crittenden with a crime.
A statement from The Herald said that Crittenden declared the
items and cooperated with Customs officials.
Additional Iraqi items, including a painting, gold-plated emblem,
gun holster and knife, that were being shipped by several other
members of the media were seized at Dulles on Monday.
Authorities declined to place a monetary value on the items, but
did say that none involved in these seizures appeared to have been
taken from Iraqi's famed museums.