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Numismatists Sue Secretive Cultural Property Advisory Committee for More Transparency

Whether you side with some archaeologists and scholars who believe that the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee is admirably safeguarding the cultural heritage of foreign countries, or you agree with some dealers, collectors and museums who feel that CPAC inappropriately rubber stamps source countries’ excessively retentionist requests, you ought to buy into the argument set forth in a lawsuit just filed in U.S. District Court by a group of numismatists—that CPAC’s deliberations and decisions should, under federal Sunshine and Freedom of Information laws, be publicly disclosed.
The group of 11 representatives from the scholarly, commercial and museum communities meets and votes in secret. The State Department then decides how to act on its recommendations. But as Jeremy Kahn previously reported in the NY Times, “it has never failed to grant an initial request for import controls.”
The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, International Association of Professional Numismatists and Professional Numismatists Guild, roiled by import restrictions on ancient coins from Cyprus that took effect July 16, have brought suit against the U.S. State Department for its failing to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests that were “designed to bring some transparency to the opaque process by which the State Department processes requests for import restrictions,” in the words of a letter dated Nov. 15 by Peter Tompa, president of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild. “Some of these requests date as far back as 2004.”
Meanwhile, rumors continue to fly that CPAC has approved China’s controversially broad request for the State Department to impose import restrictions on pre-1911 cultural material from that country. In his Nov. 15 letter, ACCG’s Tompa noted:
Concerns about transparency of process have been previously raised by others as well, but with no discernable effect. Such concerns will no doubt be raised yet again if the State Department, as is rumored, announces broad import restrictions on Chinese cultural artifacts before the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

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