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Lawsuit pries loose documents
By Wayne G. Sayles

Peter Tompa summarizes the first round of releases of information under the FOIA lawsuit launched by ACCG, IAPN and PNG.

The State Department has made its initial disclosures in response to the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the ACCG, the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild. By our count, in that initial disclosure, the State Department released 34 documents in full, 15 in redacted form and has withheld 21 documents. Six documents have also been held for further consultation with another agency before possible release.

The State Department produced several documents that are already publicly available, including the Cyprus MOU and information already up on the State Department Cultural Property Protection web site. Nonetheless, the State Department did also release some relevant documents. These included an “action memo” evidencing the decision to impose import restrictions on ancient coins of Cypriot type. While it is heavily redacted, it does suggest that the decision was approved by the proper decision making authority, Assistant Secretary Dina Powell.

That said, given the redactions, it remains unclear whether or not Ms. Powell was fully briefed about CPAC’s recommendations on extending import restrictions to ancient coins of Cypriot types. While the CPAC report was also produced, it was only produced in heavily redacted form. As a result, it is impossible to ascertain whether CPAC’s recommendations were made known to the decision maker or not.

In that regard, it should also be indicated that the cover note to Ms. Powell from Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Miller Crouch fails to disclose CPAC’s recommendations. Nor is Ms. Powell given any choice other than to approve the restrictions in their entirety or to disapprove them in their entirety. One would have hoped the decision maker would have been fully explained the option of approving a renewal of the then current restrictions without approving new import restrictions on coins. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that State Department staff explained this option to Ms. Powell in the documents that the Department of State produced.

The “action plan” also evidences that other foreign policy considerations may have entered into the decision making, contrary to the provisions of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act that require the State Department to base the imposition of import restrictions solely on the Act’s statutory criteria. In that regard, the document states that EUR (presumably the State Department’s European interests section) supported the recommendation to extend import restrictions on Cypriot cultural artifacts.

In other communications accompanying the documents that were produced, the State Department also reiterated its past refusal to release documents related to the request for Chinese import restrictions, which has been pending since 2005.

Plaintiffs intend to abide by Judge Leon’s scheduling order. After discussing further releases with the government, they plan to bring any remaining issues to the Court’s attention.

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