After a defense counsel requested more research, an Iraqi judge deferred the trial of a British man and a German man accused of attempting to smuggle artifacts for two weeks.
James Fitton, a 66-year-old retired British geologist, and Volker Waldmann, a 60-year-old Berlin psychologist, have been held in captivity since they were apprehended on March 20 as they were leaving Baghdad airport on their way home.
Fitton’s luggage contained 10 stone bits, pottery pieces, or ceramics, according to customs agents and witnesses. Waldmann was said to have two pieces, but he denied ownership.
Both individuals claim they had no intention of breaching the law and had never met before traveling to Iraq on an organized tour.
At the request of Waldmann’s defense attorney, Furat Kuba, the trial was postponed until June 6 to allow for additional investigations.
“Some crucial factors were not considered during the initial investigations,” Kuba added, citing a report from an expert group that said the fragments found with the men were antiquities.
“We don’t have any additional information: where did these parts come from?” What epoch, what civilization are they from?” Kuba inquired, adding that there were also unanswered questions about the location where the fragments were found.
“Is it secure and fenced?” Kuba inquired. “Are there any signs that these are antique pieces that must not be collected?”
Kuba said he wanted the tour guide or an Iraqi official who had been there at the location to testify in court about whether the visitors had been told they couldn’t pick up debris.
Their trial coincides with the war-torn country’s tentative openness to travelers, despite its nearly non-existent tourism infrastructure.
Iraq has also been attempting to reclaim antiquities that have been looted over decades in the country with a culture that extends back thousands of years.
The judge informed the defendants that they were charged under a 2002 law that allows for punishments of up to execution for those who “intentionally take or attempt to take out of Iraq an antique.”
When asked why he tried to transfer the antiquities out of Iraq at the opening of the trial, Fitton cited his “passion,” claiming he was interested in “geology, ancient history, and archaeology,” and was unaware that doing so was unlawful.
The things supposedly recovered in Waldmann’s luggage were not his, rather they were Fitton’s.