TEL AVIV (May. 19)
A senior American official accused of removing archaeological items from the country without a license was identified by Haaretz Thursday as Abraham Sofaer, legal adviser to the U.S. State Department.
The paper said he is suspected of having done this over a 15-year period during which he frequently visited Israel.
Sofaer was in the country most recently this month in connection with efforts to arrange a compromise between Israel and Egypt in their dispute over Taba, before an international arbitration panel issues its binding ruling.
The State Department acknowledged in Washington Thursday that its legal aide has gotten into an entanglement with the Israeli authorities for taking ancient coins out of the country.
“Sofaer is an avid coin collector and he has bought coins in Israel,” State Department spokesman Charles Redman said. He added that Sofaer was unaware “of the fact that a license is required to take coin purchases out of the country.”
Redman said that “in view of this information, he has contacted legal counsel in Israel to make sure that he is in compliance with all the requirements of Israeli law.”
The Ministry of Education and Culture’s antiquities division claims that Sofaer bought the archaeological finds from a person who engaged in illegal excavations and theft of antiquities.
According to Haaretz, Sofaer said his purchases of antiquities were always made through authorized dealers. He said he was prepared to return all of his purchases to Israel if there is any doubt about the legality of his transactions.