Iraq court postpones smuggling case against two Europeans

Prosecutors say the duo were planning to fly out of the country with historic shards in their baggage

Jim Fitton of Britain, left, and Volker Waldmann of Germany, center, wearing yellow detainees’ uniforms and handcuffed are escorted by Iraqi security forces, outside a courtroom, in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, May 22, 2022.  Waldmann and Fitton have been accused of smuggling ancient shards out of Iraq.  (AP Photo / Hadi Mizban)
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

An Iraqi court has postponed the trial of two European tourists charged with smuggling antiquities they picked up during a guided tour of the country’s ancient sites.

Lawyers for Volker Waldman, a German, said that more information was needed about the age and value of the pieces that he was carrying when he was held at Baghdad International Airport on March 20.

Mr Waldman was arrested with Jim Fitton, 66, a British geologist, after they stayed behind to help look after their 85-year-old tour guide, who had a stroke and later died in hospital.

The pair were arrested after officials found shards, some as small as a fingernail, that had been collected at Eridu, an ancient Mesopotamian city in southern Iraq.

A government technical team concluded the items — 10 pieces found in Mr Fitton's possession and two in Mr Waldman's — could be classified as archaeological pieces because they dated back more than 200 years.

Mr Waldman's lawyers say he was carrying the pieces for Mr Fitton, but had not picked them up from the site.

Both men are charged with smuggling based on the country's antiquities laws, and could potentially face the death penalty. Experts have dismissed the prospects of that happening.

Both men said they were unaware of the Iraqi antiquities smuggling law, or that there would be penalties for picking up or attempting to leave the country with the items.

Furat Kubba, the lawyer for Mr Waldman, said he would seek to have separate trials for the two men.

A report by international think tank Chatham House published earlier this month highlighted the loss of Iraq’s thousands of years of history from looting, internal disputes and a lack of money to protect historical sites.

The case of the two tourists has received international attention at a time when Iraq hopes to boost its nascent tourism sector.

Updated: May 22, 2022, 2:33 PM