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U.S. Customs Catching Looters - 2003-04-25


A look at the off and on looting problem in Iraq now. Over the past week, U.S. Customs and Immigration officials have seized paintings taken from the palace of one of Saddam Hussein’s sons, found a cache of gold-plated weapons taken from an Iraqi government facility and confiscated Iraqi bonds, knives and other spoils of war. Brian Purchia has the latest.

MICHAEL T. DOUGHERTY, BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT
“Whether the person doing the looting is looking for a windfall or a souvenir - they are stealing."

U.S. Customs official Michael Dougherty is sending a message of deterrence to looters. Most caught smuggling items so far have been journalists who covered the war in Iraq. Fox News fired an employee this week after he was caught with 12 paintings from a Presidential Palace in Baghdad.

There’s no evidence-looted goods were taken from the Iraqi National Museum following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s government. Late today the Director of Antiquities at Iraq’s National Museum, Jaber Khalil appealed for the return of looted goods.

JABER KHALIL, HEAD OF ANTIQUITIES AT IRAQ NATIONAL MUSEUM
“Some of them were returned, and some of them were very important objects, to the museum."

The gold-plated weapons U.S. customs officials found are believed to have been looted by a member of the U.S. military. The recent looting is disturbing many U.S. custom officials, including Jayson Ahearn.

JAYSON AHEARN, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER FOR FIELD OPERATIONS FOR U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION
“The heroic efforts of our troops is too great to be undermined by those who would feast on Iraqi’s heritage, the rich cultural heritage of that country.”

U.S. Customs officials are not yet sure how much has been smuggled out of Iraq. Gordon England, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security says U.S. officials are still vigilant.

GORDON ENGLAND, DEPUTY SECRETARY HOMELAND SECURITY
"The bureau of customs and border protection has alerted inspectors at our nation's airports, seaports, to be on the lookout for any items that could be stolen Iraqi goods."

U.S. officials say regardless of their aesthetic value, the looted goods have a resale value in the United States - at least on the black market.

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