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Utah historian accused of smuggling antiquities out of Israel

By Sarah Dallof | Posted - May 19, 2011 at 10:11 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A renowned author, historian and retired BYU lecturer is being accused of attempting to smuggle hundreds of antiquities out of Israel, but he insists it's all just a miscommunication.

Dr. John Lund was detained by Israeli antiquities authorities this week as he was about to fly back to Utah. They claim to have seized thousands of dollars in ancient artifacts, and even more money from illegal sales.

Dr. John Lund is accused of stealing and smuggling artifacts out of Israel -- an allegation he denies.
Dr. John Lund is accused of stealing and smuggling artifacts out of Israel -- an allegation he denies.

Lund admits he lacked the proper paperwork for some of the items in question, but says he had no idea he needed it. What's more, he says he brought the so-called "stolen artifacts" into the country.

Lund has traveled the world -- introducing more than 4,000 people to religious sites. He's been going to Israel since 1976.

"I have great confidence the people who know me know I believe in obeying the laws of the land," he said. "You won't find a greater advocate for Israel than me."

But Israeli authorities say Lund sold stolen artifacts to tour groups and attempted to smuggle more artifacts out of the country -- even after he was warned to stop. The items include ancient coins, clay oil lamps and pottery.


I have great confidence the people who know me know I believe in obeying the laws of the land. You won't find a greater advocate for Israel than me.

–Dr. John Lund


"I fear it's going to end up looking that I'm the head of a giant smuggling ring they finally smashed when I feel like goody-two shoes tripping down the street that runs into the dragon," Lund said.

The problem, Lund says, is he was not aware he needed to buy items only from Israeli-authorized dealers. He also admits he didn't know he was required to obtain a special document in addition to exit visas for every item purchased.

He's prepared to pay a fine for that.

"I didn't know about it and I'd been there 30 years," Lund said.

But Lund says some of the items he's accused of smuggling are things he brought into the country -- specifically a binder of ancient coins he's using as research for an upcoming book and oil lamps he'd brought along as educational tools.

The checks authorities seized were from tour group members' purchases and from loans to some who had run out of cash. He was detained and questioned twice, but eventually allowed to leave after posting a $7,500 bond.

Lund now plans to seek guidance from a specialized attorney and the U.S. Embassy. Israeli authorities are expecting Lund to travel back to the country to stand trial.

A conviction could carry up to three years in jail.

Email:sdallof@ksl.com

Sarah Dallof

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