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BAGHDAD (Reuters) – An Iraqi court on Sunday adjourned for two weeks the trial of a Briton and a German accused of trying to smuggle antiquities after a defense lawyer called for further investigations.
James Fitton, 66, a retired British geologist, and Volker Waldmann, 60, a psychologist from Berlin, have been in detention since their March 20 arrest at Baghdad airport as they ended their vacation.
According to statements by customs officials and witnesses, Fitton’s luggage contained 10 stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics. Waldmann reportedly had two pieces, but denied that they were his.
The two men did not know each other before traveling to Iraq on an organized trip, and both say they had no intention of breaking the law.
The trial was adjourned until June 6 to allow further investigations, at the request of Waldmann’s defense attorney, Furat Kuba.
During the first investigations, “some important aspects were not examined”, Kuba said, citing the report of an expert committee which said the fragments found with the men were antiquities.
“We don’t have any more details: what site do these pieces come from? What era, what civilization do they date from? Kuba asked, adding that there were also outstanding questions regarding the site where the fragments were collected.
“Is it fenced and protected?” Kuba asked. “Are there any signs that these are old coins that are forbidden to collect?” »
Kuba said he wanted the tour guide or an Iraqi official who was present at the site to testify in court as to whether the tourists had received instructions prohibiting them from picking up fragments.
Their trial comes as the war-ravaged country, whose tourist infrastructure is almost non-existent, timidly opens up to visitors.
Iraq has also tried to recover antiquities that have been looted for decades in the country whose civilization dates back thousands of years.
The judge told the defendants they were charged under a 2002 law that carries penalties of up to the death penalty for those found guilty of “intentionally taking or attempting to bring out of Iraq an antique”.
Fitton, at the start of the trial, when asked why he tried to smuggle the artifacts out of Iraq, cited his “hobby”, saying he was interested in “geology, history ancient and archaeology”, and that he did not know that taking the fragments was illegal.
Waldmann denied that the coins allegedly found in his luggage were his, but they belonged to Fitton.