Above the law?
Import Restrictions Declared 'Extra Legal'
By Richard Giedroyc
After reviewing the new restrictions on importing certain coins, two University of Miami law professors have declared the U.S. State Department’s actions as “extra legal,” according to a spokesman for the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild.
Washington attorney Peter Tompa, speaking at the Jan. 7 ACCG meeting held during the New York International Numismatic Convention, said the two professors examined laws regarding the import of certain coins and how these laws are being enforced, despite having no personal interest in coins or in coin collecting. Their conclusion, according to Tompa, was that those enforcing these laws have been going beyond the letter of the law, using the law term “extra legal” to describe these actions.
The ACCG, alongside other numismatic organizations, has been conducting an ongoing series of lawsuits regarding where the ACCG views seizures of coin imports or coins already in the United States as being unjust.
ACCG spokesman Wayne Sayles reported at the NYINC meeting that the ACCG now has 793 individual members as well as 21 affiliated clubs that represent approximately 5,000 additional collectors. Sayles was careful to clarify what collectors and dealers should and should not do. “It is not in our best interests to find a way to get around the law. It is in our best interest to change the law,” he declared.
One of the problems Sayles identified is that U.S. Customs agents don’t apply the laws consistently restricting the import of certain ancient coin types. Part of this may be a lack of understanding regarding these coins, however Sayles said, “We need to get involved internally with [U.S.] Customs.”
Customs agents have been told to seize specific type coins, rather than basing the coins on where they were found. In some instances, the coins may have been legally excavated in a country other than the country of issue. For example, an ancient coin struck on Cyprus may have been excavated in another country.
An additional factor to consider, according to the ACCG, is that some customs agents are favoring the stance of archaeologists who are against any coins being available to collectors. The archaeologists who favor a full ban on the import of such coins is a minority, according to Sayles. He noted that at a recent hearing only eight percent of archaeologists favored coins being named among future import restriction laws now being considered by the U.S. State Department.
Sayles told those at the ACCG meeting some coin dealers are now giving clients invoices on which photographs of their coins appear. Current statutes require an affidavit both from the dealer and from the buyer that some specific ancient coins are being imported legally. The provenance and the date of purchase of such coins is becoming increasingly important due to these restrictions.
The State Department has effectively declared its decisions to impose US import restrictions on ancient artifacts to be "above the law" in its response to the ACCG's Baltimore test case appeal, which seeks judicial review of these decisions. Not only do these decisions go beyond the letter of the law (exceeding the authority it grants to the State Department), they also clearly violate its legislative intent.
The State Department additionally refuses to comply with reporting and disclosure requirements mandated by US law, on grounds that its actions must be kept secret because they involve diplomatic negotiations and confidentiality obligations to their sources of information.
Collectors of ancient artifacts (including coins) in all nations, Germany being one significant example, may find themselves exposed to oppressive official actions if constant vigilance is not maintained to ensure that government officials themselves obey the law. Examples of what can happen when they do not may be found here:
It is very costly and time-consuming for individuals to contest such unwarranted official actions, and in most cases the collector or dealer involved would not find it economically sensible to sue for judicial review.
Antiquities collectors in European nations should not imagine that because they live outside US jurisdiction, the efforts of the ACCG and its legal allies to enforce judicial review and the rule of law as constraints on government officials in the USA are not also vitally important to them. These efforts, although focused on coins, are the only concerted action presently being taken in defense of antiquities collectors' rights. Legal precedents that result may have importance to cases involving collecting and trading in all types of antiquities.