Iraq: Briton sentenced to 15 years in prison for smuggling artifacts

Iraq: Briton sentenced to 15 years in prison for smuggling artifacts

BAGHDAD (AP) — A British citizen was sentenced Monday by an Iraqi court to 15 years in prison for attempting to smuggle artifacts out of the country, in a case that has drawn international attention.

The verdict handed down to retired geologist Jim Fitton shocked the Baghdad court, including his lawyer. He and his family argued Fitton, 66, had no criminal intent.

“I thought the worst-case scenario would be a year, with suspension,” Fitton’s attorney, Thair Soud, told The Associated Press in a visibly shocked state.

A German national tried with Fitton has been found to have no criminal intent in the case and will be released.

But Judge Jabir Abd Jabir found that in collecting the items, which turned out to be artifacts dating back more than 200 years, according to a government technical investigation, and intending to transport them out of the country, Fitton had criminal intent to smuggle them.

The lawsuit has drawn international attention at a time when Iraq is seeking to open up its nascent tourism sector. The two men appeared in court for the first time on May 15, wearing yellow inmate uniforms, telling judges they had not acted with criminal intent and had no idea they might have violated local laws.

Fitton said he “suspected” the items he collected were ancient fragments, but that “at the time I did not know Iraqi laws”, or that taking the fragments was not allowed. Fitton said that as a geologist he used to collect such fragments as a hobby and had no intention of selling them.

The judge, however, did not consider Soud’s arguments which exposed Fitton’s ignorance of Iraqi laws and the value of the items he had picked up. Fitton and German national Volker Waldman were arrested at Baghdad airport on March 20 after airport security discovered the items in their luggage. They had been part of a tourist expedition around the ancient sites of the country.

Fitton’s family became concerned when he failed to arrive on a scheduled flight to Kuala Lumpur, where he is staying with his wife, on March 20. They later learned that Fitton, a geologist who had traveled extensively for oil and gas companies, had been taken to a holding cell at the airport where he was still being held, Fitton’s daughter Leila told AFP. AP last month.

Frustrated by the perceived inaction on the part of the British Foreign Office to intervene and help in Fitton’s case, his family launched a petition which garnered over 100,000 signatures. The British diplomatic mission in Baghdad has not commented on its involvement in the case and the British consul in Iraq, who attended the hearing on Monday, left after the sentencing without comment.

A total of 12 pottery fragments and other shards were found in Fitton’s possession by Iraqi authorities, all collected as souvenirs, according to Fitton’s family, during a group tourist expedition to Eridu, an ancient Mesopotamian site. in the current province of Dhi Qar.

Waldman’s defense team said the German tourist was carrying the parts for Fitton but did not retrieve them from the site. Both men are charged with smuggling under the country’s antiquities laws and could potentially face the death penalty. However, officials said that was only a remote possibility.

Soud said he intended to appeal the conviction immediately. It is unclear whether Fitton can serve his sentence in his home country, as that would require a bilateral agreement between Iraq and the UK.

Under Iraqi law, both men could have faced the death penalty, an outcome that legal experts said from the start unlikely.

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