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DOD contractor in Turkey suspected of smuggling antiquities

By STEVEN BEARDSLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 18, 2013

A civilian Defense Department contractor vacationing in Turkey faces prosecution in the country after stones he collected near his beachfront hotel were confiscated at the airport as ancient artifacts, he said.

Jason Dement, 30, a terminal manager at the Army post in Katterbach, Germany, and former active-duty soldier, said he was barred from leaving the country on Monday, a day after Turkish police detained him on suspicion of smuggling antiquities. Dement remains at a hotel in the southern city of Antalya as a lawyer seeks his release pending a possible trial.

A museum confirmed the two pieces were artifacts, according to an Associated Press report that cited Dement’s attorney. It was unclear what they were or how far back they dated, the report said.

Reached Thursday by phone, Dement said he and his wife picked up the objects during a six-day vacation at a resort in the Mediterranean city. He said the hotel’s beach was littered with stones, and the two he picked up had peculiar features — one appeared to be made of marble, and the other was an angular stone roughly the size of a water bottle and with a reddish-brown color, like a brick.

Dement said he was unaware of the country’s strict prohibitions against removing artifacts, but had no reason to believe the stones were any more significant than other rocks he collected.

“They just happened to be two decent rocks that weren’t covered in silt and mosses,” he said. “We figured we could paint or write on them.”

Turkey has a broad definition of cultural artifacts, according to an online State Department travel brief on the country, and it regularly prosecutes anyone believed to be removing antiquities from its borders. The penalty for smuggling antiquities is up to 12 years in prison, according to The Associated Press.

Authorities stopped the Dements after the couple passed through a screening device in the airport Sunday night, Jason Dement said. Security guards searched their luggage, pulled out the bag of stones and separated the two pieces from the collection. Dement’s wife, Sheila Ayala, was allowed to continue on to Germany.

After authorities consulted a historical expert, Dement was detained by police overnight, he said. A judge ordered the travel ban the next day, and Dement has since remained at a hotel in Antalya, where he talks with his wife through Skype and updates a personal blog on the case.

He said he expects to go before a criminal court before he can be released.

Dement said he has been in touch with the legal office at the Air Force base in Incirlik, Turkey, as well as with the U.S. Embassy and his employers in Germany, a firm that contracts with the garrison.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy declined to comment on the case.

beardsley.steven@stripes.com
Twitter: @sjbeardsley
 

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