101 people arrested and 19,000 artefacts recovered in international crackdown on cultural goods trafficking

Heritage Stewardship

101 people arrested and 19,000 artefacts recovered in international crackdown on cultural goods trafficking
06 May 2020
More than 19,000 archaeological artefacts and other artworks have been recovered as part of a global operation spanning 103 countries and focusing on the dismantlement of international networks of art and antiquities traffickers.

101 suspects have been arrested, and 300 investigations opened as part of this coordinated crackdown. The criminal networks handled archaeological goods and artwork looted from war-stricken countries, as well as works stolen from museums and archaeological sites.

Seizures include coins from different periods, archaeological objects, ceramics, historical weapons, paintings and fossils. Facilitating objects, such as metal detectors were also seized.

These results were achieved during the global Operation ATHENA II, led by the World Customs Organization (WCO) and INTERPOL, which was carried out in synchronization with the Europe-focused Operation PANDORA IV coordinated by the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) and Europol. Details of both Operations, which ran in the autumn of 2019, can only be released now due to operational reasons…

Operational highlights
:: Afghan Customs seized 971 cultural objects at Kabul airport just as the objects were about to depart for Istanbul, Turkey.
:: The Spanish National Police (Policia Nacional), working together with the Colombian Police (Policia Nacional de Colombia), recovered at Barajas airport in Madrid some very rare pre-Columbian objects illegally acquired through looting in Colombia, including a unique Tumaco gold mask and several gold figurines and items of ancient jewellery. Three traffickers were arrested in Spain, and the Colombian authorities carried out house searches in Bogota, resulting in the seizure of a further 242 pre-Columbian objects, the largest ever seizure in the country’s history.
:: The investigation of a single case of online sale led to the seizure of 2,500 ancient coins by the Argentinian Federal Police Force (Policia Federal Argentina), the largest seizure for this category of items, while the second largest seizure was made by Latvian State Police (Latvijas Valsts Policija) for a total of 1,375 coins.
:: Six European Police forces reported the seizure of a hundred and eight metal detectors, demonstrating that looting in Europe is still an ongoing business…