Turkey strict on smuggling|
September 27, 2017
The number 13 is regarded as bad luck by superstitious persons. For Toby Robyns of West Sussex in England it isn’t superstition, but it is bad luck. Robyns was arrested Aug. 22 while leaving Turkey with 13 coins he found while diving.
Robyns had not yet been formally charged at the time this article was being written; however, he was being housed in Milas Prison, northeast of Bodrum, as authorities considered his violation of Turkish antiquities laws.
According to TurkeyTravelPlanner.com, “It is illegal to buy, sell, possess or – especially– export from Turkey antiquities (usually defined as carpets, coins, icons, colored tiles and ceramics, paintings, statues and sculptures, metal objects, etc.) more than one or two centuries old (i.e., older than antiquities) … Penalties are stiff, and usually include a prison sentence for serious offenses.”
U.S. courts recognize Turkey’s cultural property legislation. Ironically, usually neutral Switzerland does not. A trivial number of coins may not sound like much, but consider that during 1998 William I. Koch, one of the wealthiest men in America at that time, surrendered the famed Decadrachm Hoard to Turkey rather than proceed with costly litigation. The 1,661-coin hoard of ancient coins appears to have been illegally excavated in Turkey 15 years earlier, smuggled through Germany, then eventually sold to the unsuspecting Koch as an investment. The hoard included 14 silver decadrachm coins from ancient Athens. While Athens is in Greece, the coins were allegedly unearthed in Turkey. Turkey threatened to demand the U.S. RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) laws be used against Koch.
In 2004, Paul Cleasby of Windermere, Cumbria, in Great Britain was accused of attempting to smuggle a 15-kilogram weight piece of antique marble out of Turkey. Cleasby was released from a Turkish prison 11 weeks later. Under Turkish law, Cleasby could have spent up to 10 years in prison for the offense.
In 2015, Salwa Jerbakah of Syria was arrested in Istanbul on charges of smuggling. She was found to be carrying 173 “antique” coins. The offense can result in a 12-year prison sentence. She was later released, but the coins were confiscated.
More recently, in May 2017, seven individuals were arrested for attempting to smuggle a 1,500-year-old statue out of Ayvalik, a seaside town on the northwestern Aegean coast of Turkey.
Turkey is continuing a policy of attempting to repatriate what it defines as its cultural heritage now residing in museums and private collections outside the country.
James Stoneham is a friend of Robyns. Stoneham attempted to trivialize the current situation. Stoneham was quoted in British tabloids as saying, “Toby is always snorkeling. It’s his hobby. He’s definitely not a smuggler and that’s what I think they are trying to say. They are making a mountain out of a molehill. I don’t know what they thought he would do. It was stupid of him. I thought he would get a slap on his wrists, they would confiscate the coins and send him on his way.”
Stoneham continued, “They are accusing him of taking Turkish artifacts, which he was obviously unaware of. It was a huge shock for everybody. This was harmless fun on a holiday you’ve enjoyed – and now he has been put in prison.”
It has been estimated that there may be as many as 25 shipwrecks dating from the fourth through the 16th century around Yassi Ada Island, about four miles from where Robyns is said to have been snorkeling when he encountered the 13 coins. A recent 5.3 magnitude earthquake in the area may have uncovered artifacts including the coins.
In 1958, Peter Throckmorton and George Bass discovered a graveyard of ships off Yassi Ada Island, including what at that time was the oldest shipwreck ever encountered. Yassi Ada is part of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara southeast of Istanbul. It is also known as Democracy and Freedom Island.
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