He actually had the gonads to describe them as “personal effects” in his customs declaration, banking on his diplomatic immunity to ship them out of the country without setting off alarms. Unfortunately for Argentinean embassy functionary Sebastian Zavalla, security noticed discrepancies between the declaration and the enormous shipment so they alerted customs officials.
Customs overrode diplomatic immunity and in front of an embassy representative, they opened the cargo. Inside they found ancient Persian gold and silver coins, battle shields, manuscripts, engraved stones and a whole bunch of other really random stuff.
Iranian officials have displayed the goods at a warehouse in Tehran to illustrate what they described as attempted “cultural plunder” by Zavalla, who worked as a counsellor at the Argentinian embassy. Among them are a hand-written Qur’an, a carved wooden door, and 19th century manuscripts belonging to Iran’s religious minorities.
The exhibition also includes animal skins, a stamp collection and – incongruously – portraits of Stalin, as well as a Vietnamese poster celebrating the fall of Saigon to communist forces in 1975.
Zavalla insists he bought all this stuff completely legitimately in Tehran’s Jomeh bazaar and other such retail outlets. He claims the Iranian items make up no more that 20% of the cargo. Of course, that’s not really much of a defense. Twenty percent of 6 tons is 1.6 tons of Iranian antiquities which is mind boggling, even for the most dedicated swap meet denizen.
Iranian customs spokesman Mohammad Behboud Ahani says they’ve invited experts to assess the monetary value of the would-be shipment, but of course he considers the market value insignificant compared to its historical value to Iran.
Zevalla left before his tons, so he’s back in Argentina now. Iran’s foreign ministry is up in arms, accusing Argentina of an “undignified diplomatic act” but the undignified diplomat is out of their reach now. They’ll have to be content with his shady collection and imprecations, I suspect.