A Norwegian diplomat vehicle carrying a haul of antiquities consisting of coins, sculptures, statuettes, and other artifacts concealed in cardboard boxes was arrested at Allenby Bridge on Monday, June 6.
The valuables were seized while a senior Norwegian diplomat was in the car, travelling between Jerusalem and Jordan. "Following Norway's permission to the Israeli MFA for the custom authorities to search the vehicle, custom officials stated to have found artifacts in the car. A locally employed driver was detained by Israeli authorities," reported Jerusalem Post.
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The officials along with the driver were arrested at the scene but were later granted conditional release by the Jerusalem Magistrate Court after posting bail. The Israeli Tax Authority named the driver as Issa Nagam, a resident of Beit Hanina in east Jerusalem.
Israeli Tax Authority officials handed the artifacts over to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) for furthering details on the items. Initially, it was reported that the articles found were of "great value", with no further information on the origin of the precious figurines.
The Allenby Bridge border crossing seen from the Jordanian side. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Antiquities smuggling is in fact a recurrent problem in Israel, where precious items are sold illegally to collectors both inside and outside the region. They are often used to launder money in villages near West Bank and Bar Kochba-era tunnels.
IAA later confirmed the amount of antiquities as 10 kilograms, releasing a picture that "showed a mound of small coins and around a dozen small figurines."
"Most of the coins were from the Hellenistic and Roman eras. The bulk was minted by Judea's Hasmonean Kings and by King Herod," said an IAA spokesperson.
The Norwegian Embassy in Tel Aviv told the Times of Israel, "Norway takes this incident very seriously." An internal probe has been launched by the Foreign Embassy to investigate how a diplomat vehicle was used for an illegal activity.
"We are aware that diplomatic vehicles from other missions have been subject to similar incidents. In addition to the handling by Israeli authorities, we have initiated an internal process," said the Norwegian Embassy.
-by Maariyah Siddiquee, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @MaariyahSid