Monday, March 09, 2015

Travelers Beware!

Bringing antiquities - even seemingly innocuous antiques, or coins - out of a foreign country can be dangerous: 

Turkey vacation ends in putrid prison cell
By Jason Meisner
Chicago Tribune

Chicago businessman Martin O'Connor was at the tail end of a church-sponsored trip to Turkey with his wife in November when he bought a sword engraved with Arabic script at Istanbul's teeming Grand Bazaar. Inside a cramped kiosk stuffed with military memorabilia, O'Connor haggled the price down to $500.

Two days later, as he and wife Maureen were about to fly home, the couple were stopped at an airport checkpoint by Turkish police who suspected the sword was a valuable antiquity. Assured that the matter would be cleared up quickly, O'Connor persuaded his wife to board the jet and told her he'd follow on the next flight.

Instead, the financial trader spent the next eight harrowing days locked up in a filthy prison, charged with attempting to smuggle an artifact, an offense that can bring up to 12 years behind bars.

O'Connor is now safely back in the U.S., but three months after his return, the case is still playing out in Turkey, where the nation's Ministry of Culture and Tourism has appealed a court decision in January that cleared O'Connor of any wrongdoing.

"It's been hell," O'Connor, 50, told the Tribune. "I spent a fortune. I went through a nightmare, and my wife went through a nightmare not knowing what was happening with me in prison. ... And I do not expect anyone to ever say they are sorry."

The couple know they were fortunate to have had financial resources and family connections to fall back on. O'Connor's father, Edmund, was a driving force behind the creation of the Chicago Board Options Exchange in the 1970s. Maureen, an attorney who volunteers with Catholic Charities, is the sister of an Illinois state senator who was able to bring significant political pressure to bear.

After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and travel expenses, the O'Connors want their ordeal to serve as a warning to anyone vacationing in the region — particularly college-age kids with no cash or clout — that even a seemingly innocuous souvenir could land them in trouble.

"If I did not have the money, if I did not have the connections and if I didn't have a loving, hardworking, caring wife that managed it all and took care of it, I would still be in prison," O'Connor said on a recent afternoon in his town home in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood. "I needed all three things."



It is difficult (and usually very expensive) to legally acquire a genuine ancient coin in countries such as Turkey, Greece or Egypt. Nearly everything offered to tourists, whether described as an ancient coin or another type of antiquity, is a reproduction. A tourist knowledgeable enough (or lucky enough) to acquire a genuine ancient coin in these countries must then get an export permit to take it home, which may be difficult and costly. Attempting to bring a coin or other antiquity home without a permit is a serious violation of the law, which can lead to the item being confiscated and perhaps even a long stay in prison. If you want an ancient coin as a memento of a trip you are taking, you will be far better off buying it from a reputable dealer such as Classical Coins.


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