A driver for the Norwegian Embassy in Israel was arrested last week at the Allenby Crossing to Jordan on suspicion of attempting to smuggle out 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of ancient coins and statuettes, the Tax Authority said in a statement on Monday.
The man, Issa Najam of the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem, arrived at the crossing with Jordan on May 31 in an official diplomatic vehicle with a senior Norwegian diplomat. Customs officials searched the vehicle and found the presumed antiquities hidden in the car’s paneling. Najam was arrested and charged with attempted antiquities smuggling.
A Tax Authority spokesman said it was not protocol to search diplomatic vehicles at the crossing but refused to comment on why the search was performed, due to the ongoing investigation into the incident.
The spokesman said it was exceedingly rare for customs officials to find antiquities being smuggled out of Israel at the Allenby Crossing.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court released the suspect conditionally per the request of customs and tax authorities after the man posted bail.
An Israel Tax Authority spokesperson said that the age and provenance of the artifacts had yet to be fully ascertained.
The artifacts were handed over to the Israel Antiquities Authority for an expert opinion. An IAA spokesperson later said that most of the coins were from the Hellenistic and Roman eras. The bulk were minted by Judea’s Hasmonean kings and by King Herod.
A Tax Authority official said an initial assessment found they are of “great value,” but was reluctant to be more exact.
A Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesperson told The Times of Israel in a statement that “The request to search the diplomatic vehicle, which enjoys diplomatic immunity, was presented to the Norwegian Embassy in Israel by the Chief of Protocol of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
“The Embassy cooperated with the Israeli authorities and allowed the search under certain conditions, in line with established international practice,” the ministry said.