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Iraq trial of Briton, German for antiquity theft adjourned

BAGHDAD (AFP) – An Iraqi court yesterday adjourned for two weeks the trial of a Briton and a German man accused of trying to smuggle antiquities after a defence lawyer called for more investigations.

James Fitton, 66, a retired British geologist, and Volker Waldmann, 60, a Berlin psychologist, have been in custody since they were arrested on March 20 at Baghdad airport as they wound up their holiday.

According to statements from customs officers and witnesses, Fitton’s baggage contained 10 stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics. Waldmann allegedly had two pieces, but denied they were his.

The two men did not know each other before they travelled to Iraq on an organised tour, and both said they had no intention of breaking the law.

The trial was adjourned until June 6 to allow time for further investigations, at the request of Waldmann’s defence lawyer, Furat Kuba.

During initial investigations, “certain important aspects were not examined”, Kuba said, citing the report of an expert committee that 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 civilisation do they date back to?” Kuba asked, adding there were also outstanding questions relating to the site where the fragments were collected.

“Is it fenced and protected?” Kuba asked. “Are there signs indicating that these are ancient pieces that it is forbidden to collect?”

Kuba said he wanted the tour guide or an Iraqi official who had been present at the site to give evidence in court as to whether the tourists had received instructions prohibiting them from picking up fragments.

Volker Waldmann and Jim Fitton are handcuffed as they walk to a courtroom in Baghdad. PHOTO: AP