British, German deny smuggling of antiquities in Iraqi court

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BAGHDAD – Two tourists – a British man and a German man – appeared in a Baghdad court on Sunday in yellow prisoner’s uniform on charges of smuggling ancient sarees from Iraq, telling judges they did not act with criminal intent and had no idea they could break local law.

Jim Fitton’s trial, 66, is drawing international attention at a time when Iraq is seeking to open its new tourism sector. The session also revealed the first details about the second accused identified as Germany’s Volker Waldman.

A three-judge panel in Baghdad’s criminal court has set May 22 for the next hearing. The court must determine whether the defendants tried to make a profit on the 12 items that were found in their possession when they tried to fly from Baghdad airport. March 20.

Fitton and Waldman appeared in court in yellow with the detainees and were asked to explain their activities.

Waldman says the two items found in his possession are not his and Fitton gave him to carry instead. “But did you put these in your bag?” Chief Justice Jaber Abdel Jabir asked. “Didn’t you know that these are Iraqi antiquities?”

Waldman said he did not remove the items from the site, only agreeing to carry them for Fitton.

Fitton said he “suspected” the items he had collected were ancient fragments, but “at the time I didn’t know about Iraqi law” or that shards were not allowed. Fitton, a geologist, said he had a habit of collecting such pieces as a hobby and had no desire to sell them.

He said it was not clear to him that it was a criminal offense to remove them from the site. “There were fences, no guards or signboards,” he told the court.

“These places, by name and definition, are ancient places,” Jabir responded. “You don’t have to tell anyone it’s forbidden.”

When Fitton said that some parts were “not bigger than my fingernails”, Jabir said that it was not relevant. “Size doesn’t matter,” he told her.

Under the law, both men could face the death penalty, a result that legal experts say is unlikely. Officials from the British and German embassies were present in court but did not give a detailed public statement in order not to disrupt the proceedings, they said.

Fitton’s defense lawyer, Thair Saud, told The Associated Press that the defense is planning to submit more evidence to clear individuals. This includes testimony from government officials present at the place where the pieces were collected, he said.

“(Their testimony) is awaiting approval from their official directorate,” he said.

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