BAGHDAD ( Associated Press) – Two tourists – a Briton and a German – accused of smuggling ancient sharks from Iraq appeared in a Baghdad court on Sunday in yellow detainees, telling judges they did not act with criminal intent and had no idea they might have broken local laws.
The trial of 66-year-old Jim Fitton is drawing international attention at a time when Iraq seeks to open up its nascent tourism sector. The session also revealed the first details about the second defendant, identified as Volker Waldmann of Germany.
A three-judge panel in Baghdad’s felony court scheduled the next hearing for May 22. The court will have to determine whether the defendants sought profit by taking 12 items that were found in their possession as they attempted to take off from Baghdad airport. March 20.
Fitton and Waldman appeared in court with detainees in yellow and were asked to explain their actions.
Waldman stated that the two items found in his possession did not belong to him and were instead given to him by Fitton to carry. “But did you put them in your bag?” asked Chief Justice Jaber Abdel Jabir. “Didn’t you know these were Iraqi antiquities?”
Waldman said he didn’t pick up the items from the site, only agreeing to take them to Fitton.
Fitton said he “suspected” that the items he had collected were antique pieces, but that “I was not aware of Iraqi laws at the time,” or that the taking of sharks was not allowed. Fitton said that as a geologist he had a habit of collecting such pieces as a hobby and had no intention of selling them.
He said it was not clear to him at the time that lifting him off the site was a criminal offense. “There were no fences, no guards or signage,” he told the court at the sites.
Jabir replied, “These places, by name and by definition, are ancient sites.” “Nobody needs to say it’s prohibited.”
When Fitton said that some pieces “are no bigger than my fingernails”, Jabir said it was not relevant. “Size doesn’t matter,” he told her.
Depending on the law both men could face the death penalty, an outcome that legal experts said was unlikely. He said British and German embassy officials were present in court, but did not release a detailed public statement about the case so as not to jeopardize the proceedings.
Phaeton’s defense attorney, Thayer Saud, told the Associated Press that the defense plans to present more evidence to clear the men. He said it included testimony from government officials present at the site where the pieces were collected.
“(His testimony) is pending approval from his official directorates,” he said.