Briton, German on trial for smuggling antiquities out of Iraq
A British and a German tourist were accused of smuggling ancient shards out of Iraq, telling judges they did not have a criminal intention and had no clue they might have been broking the country's laws.
A Briton and a German who were arrested on March 20 at Baghdad Airport for having ancient pottery shards in their luggage told the trial Sunday that they did not intend to break the law.
Volker Waldmann, a Berlin psychologist, and James Fitton, a retired British geologist, were seen dressed in the detainees' yellow uniform for the hearing at a Baghdad criminal court.
The two men did not know each other before they traveled to Iraq on an organized tour, and their trial comes in a country that has been attempting to recover antiquities stolen over a period of decades.
According to the judge, they were charged under a 2002 law which sentences can reach the death penalty if the accused is guilty of "intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity".
According to customs officers, Fitton's baggage contained about a dozen stone fragments, pieces of pottery, or ceramics.
Waldmann allegedly possessed two pieces, but he denied they belonged to him.
"I never possessed any of these items," Waldmann told the court, saying they belonged to Fitton.
"We were visiting the ancient sites and he found them and gave them to me."
In other statements translated from German, he said he placed the pieces in a "transparent bag" and never tried to hide them.
When Fitton was asked by the judge why he was taking the artifacts out of Iraq, he said it was his "hobby" but did not mean to do anything illegal.
"I didn't realize that taking them was against the law," he said, adding that some of the sites were open and unsupervised.
"I am a retired geologist. My interests still lie in geology and ancient history and archeology," Fitton, who lives in Malaysia, added. His family said the pieces came from the Eridu archaeological site in southern Iraq.
The trial will resume on May 22.