A Middle Eastern expert and Princeton graduate alumnus was sentenced Monday for attempting to smuggle 4,000-year-old artifacts looted from the Iraqi National Museum after the fall of Baghdad into the United States.
Joseph Braude was sentenced to six months under house arrest and two years probation after pleading guilty to smuggling and making false statements before U.S. District Judge Allyne Ross in August.
Braude studied Near Eastern languages at Yale and Arabic and Islamic history at Princeton in the late 1990s. He left the University without completing his doctoral dissertation, according to Kathleen O’Neill, department manager of the Near Eastern studies department. He is fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and Farsi and has worked with the U.S. government and several news agencies on Middle Eastern affairs and counter-terrorism.
Braude was arrested when a routine customs examination at J.F.K. Airport on June 11, 2003, revealed three cylindrical stone seals in his suitcase he had not declared to customs on his arrival from London. He also claimed he had not visited Iraq during his trip, according to a statement released by the office of U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf.
The marble and alabaster seals were marked on the bottom in black ink with the initials "IM" and a serial number. An associate professor of ancient Near Eastern art and archaeology at Columbia University authenticated the items as belonging to Iraq’s Akkadian period of 2340-2180 B.C., according to the statement.
Braude later admitted to agents of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he had bought the seals for $200 on the black market in Baghdad and was aware that they had probably been looted from the Iraqi National Museum in April 2003.
In a press release from the Justice Department announcing Braude’s arrest, Mauskopf stated, "This administration sent a clear signal that we would not allow thieves to take advantage of the conflict in Iraq to pilfer its antiquities."
Braude told The New York Times that he had visited Iraq in June 2003 to research an introduction to his book "The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East and the World," published last year.
Braude was born to an Iraqi-Jewish family and describes himself as an Iraqi-American.
According to the report from the customs agents who questioned him, Braude had told agents that he planned to have the seals inspected and then "turn them over to the proper authorities."