In a letter citing his discontent with the U.S. State Department’s
recent imposition of import restrictions on certain “coins of Italian
types,” numismatist Robert Korver has resigned from the Cultural
Property Advisory Committee.
In the five-page Feb. 18 letter, Korver resigned effective March
1, in protest over the Memorandum of Understanding with Italy and the
actions of the U.S. State Department that resulted in the imposition
of import restrictions on several groups of widely collected ancient coins.
The Jan. 19 Federal Register published a notice that the U.S.
State Department and U.S. Customs had included many widely collected
ancient coin types in a MOU that restricted certain “coins of Italian
types” from entering the United States.
The effect of the restrictions is that many popularly collected
coins may be imported into the United States only if accompanied by
either an export permit issued by Italy or other documentation
indicating that the coins left Italy prior to Jan. 19 — the effective
date of the restriction.
A Jan. 19 U.S. State Department press release said: “Coins, a
significant and inseparable part of the archaeological record, are
especially valuable to the understanding of the history of Italy. The
unauthorized search for coins in Italy is exacerbated by metal
detecting, an activity that is destructive to fragile archaeological deposits.”
Import restrictions are currently imposed on certain Chinese coins
as well as coins of Cypriot type.
Coin collectors and dealers critiqued the inclusion of coins in
the Italian MOU and noted that the regulations could make it much more
difficult to import and collect the restricted coins and could result
in higher prices for these coins.
The bilateral agreement between Italy and the United States was
formed in 2001 and renewed in January 2006. Both the 2001 and the 2006
agreements between the two nations excluded coins.
In his letter of resignation, Korver cited the inclusion of coins
in the 2011 renewal of the MOU as subordinating “the interests of tens
of thousands of American collectors to the whims of a foreign
government, bureaucrats, and an elite academic fraternity,” further
noting that there is currently no Italian law or regulation that
specifically prohibits the export of the coins specified in the MOU to
the United States.
The committee’s role is to advise the president on appropriate
United States action in response to request from state parties for
assistance in protecting cultural heritage. The committee provides its
findings and recommendations to the U.S. State Department, which
considers them prior to making a decision.
It is composed of 11 members, appointed by the president to
renewable three-year terms. Korver was appointed by George W. Bush in
2003 as an “expert in the international sale of cultural property.” He
is currently director emeritus at Heritage Auctions in Dallas.
Korver’s letter of resignation was addressed to President Barack
Obama and said that the MOU with Italy cast the Obama administration
in an unfavorable light, adding, “in signing the MOU with Italy, your
administration has shown a bias against the American people, against
American business, and against the rule of law.”
Korver wrote that he was twice denied the opportunity to submit a
minority report to President Obama because of the “advocacy and
directives of staff bureaucrats, operating under a carefully defined
veil of secrecy, to further their personal preferences and objectives.”
Public comments ignored
Korver’s letter of resignation said that the import restrictions
were imposed despite the advice of CPAC and prior precedent, and with
no change in the underlying facts. He accused the State Department of
ignoring the public comments of thousands of coin collectors, which
constituted the vast majority of the public comment before CPAC, and
of ignoring the concerns raised by a bipartisan group of members of Congress.
On Sept. 27, 2010, Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, wrote a letter to
the U.S. State Department — signed by 11 other members of Congress —
requesting that the State Department conduct a full review of Italy’s
compliance with then-current MOU provisions concerning long-term loans
and the facilitation of export permits for legally acquired items.
Korver’s resignation letter accused the U.S. State Department of
imposing requirements that discriminate against American collectors
and small businesses that serve them and of extending new
documentation requirements that are “impossible to comply with at the
very moment you promised to scale back job-killing regulations.”
Korver cited the MOU as conflicting with a recent editorial by
President Obama in the Wall Street Journal where he “claimed to oppose
all needlessly intrusive forms of government regulation on private enterprise.”
Korver also cited various ways that the passage of the MOU failed
to comply with the requirements set out by the Cultural Property
Implementation Act, as the CPIA was “specifically crafted to take
American business interests into account before formulating any MOU.”
He closed the letter urging President Obama to appoint an
independent agency to investigate the minutes and processes of CPAC to
verify compliance with CPIA; to request the resignation of all current
CPAC members, “thus preventing further embarrassment to your
administration”; to issue an executive order suspending enforcement of
MOUs with Cyprus and Italy, because of ethical failures; and finally,
to move a newly constituted CPAC to the Department of Commerce. ■