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U.S. releases list of gifts Obama received from foreign governments. Guess what we sent

President Barack Obama pauses while speaking at the 2013 Planned Parenthood National Conference in Washington, Friday, April 26, 2013.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Somewhere, in the bazaar-like pile of gifts Barack Obama received recently, between the bamboo bicycle from the Philippines and the Sri Lankan pouches of coffee, is Canada's contribution: a basketball and a map.

On Friday, the U.S. government released the list of gifts that its President and other federal officials received from foreign governments in 2011.

The document gives a peek into the old-fashioned tradition of heads of state exchanging goodwill giftsthat highlight their country's heritage or the giver's taste.

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In France, where former president Nicolas Sarkozy was long saddled with a reputation as ostentatious, the media took notice that Mr. Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, gave the Obamas more than $40,000 in presents in 2011.

The list reads like a shopping catalogue of French luxury brands.

Perhaps oblivious to English vernacular, Mr. Sarkozy gave his U.S. counterpart a Louis Vuitton men's business bag embossed with "BO," along with a Lacoste white polo shirt and a glass sculpture of Alexander the Great's horse, Bucephalus.

Ms. Bruni gave First Lady Michelle Obama a $5,500 set of Baccarat crystal table lamps. Appealing to the jock in Mr. Obama, Mr. Sarkozy also gave him a crystal golf statuette and a $7,750 Hermes golf bag.

Other leaders also took note of the U.S. leader's interest in sports. German chancellor Angela Merkel gave him a $1,400 German-made Kramski putter set.

And since Mr. Obama is known as a Chicago Bulls fans, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered Mr. Obama a basketball signed by the 2010–2011 Toronto Raptors.

The ball was presented in a plastic display case, inside a green leather-bound box with Mr. Harper's seal on the top.

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Mr. Harper also gave a golden-framed 19th-century antique map of North America surrounded by drawings of North American Indians and beavers. Total estimated worth of the Canadian gifts: $1,880.

The most expensive item Mr. Obama received was a blue mask sculpture offered by Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba, estimated to be worth $52,695.

Some of the presents could be said to be self-centric.

Former South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak gave a copy of his autobiography, The Uncharted Path. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gave a photography book by his wife, Ani.

One other item, from Mr. Sarkozy, was described as a "tall Plexiglas sculpture, entitled Wrapping Flag Candy USA , depicting an upright Tootsie Roll with American flag patterned wrapper."

Along with porcelain sets, jaguar mask, rugs, oil paintings, engraved boxes and plates, all those presents were accepted under the standard justification that "non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. government."

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The list includes other U.S. officials.

One, Lael Brainard, Under Secretary for International Affairs, declared that she received a Canada goose parka and seal-skin mitts from Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. U.S. officials estimated the parka and mitts were worth $1,000. Mr. Flaherty's department, however, had previously declared the expense, reporting that it spent $19,874 for a set of 40 parkas for participants at a G7 finance ministers' meeting in Nunavut.

U.S. federal officials are prohibited from accepting gifts from foreign sources.

The Hermes golf bag and the Raptors basketball, along with the other listed presents, were handed over to the U.S. National Archives, while some artwork was lent to a museum.

In Canada, federal officials must declare all gifts over $200, and items worth more than $1,000 must be forfeited.

Mr. Harper reported in 2011 that, during a summit in Honolulu, Mr. Obama gave him a Hawaiian silk shirt and an original print from local artist Abigail Romanchak.

The Prime Minister and his wife, Laureen, have also received many presents from the Sarkozys.

In filings with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Harpers said presents they received in 2011 from the Sarkozys included a men's leather cosmetics bag, two Dior white bathrobes, skin-care products and leather purse, a Brochier silk scarf, an S.T. Dupont Lacquer Onyx fountain pen and a Hermès beach towel and makeup bag.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More


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