SALT LAKE CITY – Tour guide David Lund on Friday denied accusations by Israeli authorities that he was trying to smuggle antiquities from that country.
Israeli authorities arrested Lund earlier this week on suspicion of trafficking antiquities, but the retired lecturer from Murray, Utah, said he was never informed of any wrongdoing in more than 30 years of guiding thousands of people to visit holy sites in the Middle East and bringing antiquities with him to tell biblical stories.
"They're saying I was trying to sneak these items out of Israel, and it's just a gross misrepresentation of the facts," the 70-year-old Lund said.
His latest trip began earlier this month when he led a group of 96 tourists to Israel. Like his previous outings, Lund brought along antiquities such as oil lamps and coins to help illustrate the history and tell stories about the region.
They were antiquities he said he had purchased on previous trips around the Mediterranean region. Lund said he was questioned at customs about the items when he entered Israel and allowed to pass without any problems.
On Monday, Lund was detained at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel on suspicion of selling stolen artifacts to tour groups as he was trying to leave the country.
Authorities said he had stolen ancient coins in his possession and had checks totaling more than $20,000 believed to be from the illegal sales of ancient coins, clay oil lamps, and glass and pottery vessels.
Lund said he had no idea a visa was required to bring antiquities in and out of the country and was never told by any authorized dealers in Israel to do so. He said the items he brought into the country helped tell biblical stories as part of the trip designed to highlight sites important to Christians.
Shai Bar Tura, deputy director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said earlier this week that Lund was previously seen selling artifacts at a lecture he gave on the history of Egypt in a Jerusalem hotel.
Authorities seized the items, searched him and his hotel room, where they found hundreds of artifacts.
"We thought it was appropriate to let him off with a warning," said Bar Tura. "But we kept our eyes open ... and sure enough, the guy kept on doing what he was told not to."
Israeli authorities said Lund acknowledged the offenses attributed to him, but Lund said he was intimidated into signing documents in Hebrew at the airport when he was detained — documents that were never clearly explained to him.
Lund said the checks were given to him by members of the tour group who wanted to buy antiquities legally, and he took them to legitimate dealers and paid for the items with his Visa card.
He said the transactions were all made openly and never meant to be secretive since there was nothing to hide, nor did he question the legality of what he was doing.
"We were buying antiques as souvenirs from legitimate dealers just like what normal tourists would do and no one ever told us we needed a special visa," Lund said. "I understand why Israel would have strict policies on antiquities, but I don't understand why they didn't stop me when I entered the country if they had a problem with the items I had."
Bar Tura said Lund could face up to three years in jail if convicted. Lund said he has not heard anything from Israeli authorities since returning two days ago.
Chi-Chi Zhang can be reached at http://twitter.com/thunderchi
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