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Last Updated: Friday, 25 April, 2003, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Legal plan to save Iraq treasures
Part of beheaded sculpture
The looting of Iraq's treasure has been called a "disaster"
A Liberal Democrat MP is urging the government to close loopholes that could allow stolen Iraqi cultural treasures to be sold in the UK.

Richard Allan, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, says the current laws could allow Iraqi antiquities to be sold openly in the UK without fear of prosecution.

The warning comes after looters ransacked many of Iraq's priceless treasures from museums and archaeological sites following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

"At the moment if somebody tries to sell an artefact that has been stolen and you can prove who it was stolen from they can be prosecuted for handling stolen goods," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday.

"But if it can't be tracked back to the original owner then they can't be prosecuted. That's the loophole we're trying to plug," he said.

The loophole means uncatalogued treasures from archaeological sites could be sold in the UK without fear of prosecution.

It is not thought that treasures stolen from museums will be openly traded because they will be catalogued and easily identifiable.

'Tainted objects'

But Mr Allan's proposed law changes would take into account local heritage laws to make sure Iraq's national treasures could not be sold, or "you would be committing an offence".

He said police would not have to prove the items had been stolen. "All you'd have to prove is something had been taken contrary to the local heritage protection laws," he said.

MP Richard Allan
MP Richard Allan wants government support

The antiquities would be described as "tainted cultural objects". London is thought to be a likely hub for those trying to sell looted or stolen antiquities.

Mr Allan says the bill mirrors Prime Minister Tony Blair's pledge to return Iraq's national treasures to the Iraqi people, but says the government needs to confirm committee time to help make the bill law.

Meanwhile, US president George W Bush said on Thursday he regretted the looting of Baghdad's internationally-renowned museum.

"I couldn't agree more with people who say we're sorry that happened," he told the US's NBC television in the first interview since launching the war against Iraq.

"We are, by the way, helping find treasure, restore treasure and we'll provide all the expertise and help they need to get that museum up and running again," Mr Bush said.




SEE ALSO:
US experts resign over Iraq looting
18 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
UN sends antiquities experts to Iraq
15 Apr 03  |  Middle East
UK sends antiquities experts to Iraq
15 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
US 'will repair' Iraqi heritage
14 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
War risk to Iraqi treasures
06 Mar 03  |  Science/Nature


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