Norway’s economic crime unit, Ministry of Culture, Cultural History Museum, National Library and University of Oslo are assisting Iraq in the pursuit of looted and illegally-exported antiquities

Norway’s economic crime unit (Økokrim), its Ministry of Culture (Kulturdepartementet) and supporting experts at the Cultural History Museum (Kulturhistorisk museum), the National Library (Nasjonalbiblioteket) and the University of Oslo (Universitetet i Oslo) are assisting Iraq in the pursuit of looted and illegally-exported antiquities.

Økokrim

As reported by Morgenbladet journalists Anders Firing Lunde and Nikolai Melamed Kleivan, in 2019, Iraq formally asked Kulturdepartementet to investigate 762 objects in the possession of private collector Martin Schøyen. In turn, in 2020, Kulturdepartementet asked Økokrim (more fully, the National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime, Den sentrale enhet for etterforskning og påtale av økonomisk kriminalitet og miljøkriminalitet) to investigate. There is no suspect in the case and Schøyen is cooperating with the investigation.

As Kulturdepartementet informed Morgenbladet, under Article 23C of the Cultural Heritage Act (Kulturminneloven), Økokrim has seized “what are believed to be cuneiform tablets and other archaeological artefacts from Mesopotamia, or present-day Iraq [det som antas å være kileskrifttavler og andre arkeologiske gjenstander fra Mesopotamia, eller dagens Irak]”.

According to Morgenbladet, “nearly 100 objects [nesten 100 gjenstander]” have been seized. According to acting state attorney Maria Bache Dahl, there is “information that indicates that many of the [762] requested items are to be found outside Norway [Vi har opplysninger som tilsier at mange av de etterlyste gjenstandene befinner seg utenfor Norge]”.

Experts are now reviewing the scientific history (provenience) and the collecting history (provenance) of those objects, in order to assess their authenticity (ektheten) and legality (lovlighet). If any are found to have been illegally exported from Iraq before 1990, Norway will recommend their repatriation. In accordance with sanctions on international transfers of cultural goods from Iraq (under Resolution 661 of the United Nations’ Security Council), if any are found to have been illegally exported from Iraq since 1990, Norway will require their repatriation.

When Firing Lunde and Melamed Kleivan queried Schøyen, his legal representative Cato Schiøtz responded that he wanted “to document that there [was] no legal basis for return [literally, extradition] [dokumentere at det ikke er grunnlag for utlevering]” of any of the seized objects.

rights, respect, responsibility and trust

One of those objects had been exhibited at the Kon-Tiki Museum (Kon-Tiki-museet) in 2003. As the ministry told the newspaper, “no professional circles had knowledge of where the [basalt] tablet [which depicted the Tower of Babel] was located [har ingen fagmiljøer hatt kjennskap til hvor tavlen har befunnet seg]”, “until it appeared with the Norwegian collector in the 1990s [inntil den på 1990-tallet dukket opp hos den norske samleren]”.

In 2015, the Embassy of Iraq had queried the exhibition. In 2016, the new director, Martin Biehl, said that his predecessors had stopped collaborating with Schøyen in 2006. He also apologised for any involvement of the museum in any harm to Iraq’s antiquities and offered assistance to Iraq’s authorities. As Biehl told Morgenbladet, ethical conduct is a matter of rights (rettigheter), respect (respekt), responsibility (ansvar) and trust (tillit).

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