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23 Arrested and 10,000 Artifacts Seized in Crackdown on Archaeological Trafficking Ring

A sophisticated organized crime group used bulldozers and advanced metal detectors to excavate ancient artifacts in southern Italy, and deployed facilitators across Europe to traffic them.

10,000 cultural items seized in 103 searches and seizures (courtesy Europol)

On Monday, November 18, the Europol the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit (EUROJUST) announced that about 10,000 cultural items had been seized and 23 people were arrested in a coordinated cross-European police operation that dismantled a large-scale international archeological trafficking ring.

“Operation Achei” — coordinated between Italy, Germany, France, and Serbia —  concluded an investigation that began in 2017 to combat the looting of Greek and Roman archaeological sites in the Calabria region in southern Italy.

The looting was carried out by an organized crime group led by two Calabrians living in the province of Crotone. According to Europol, the group executed all phases of trafficking by deploying looters, fences, intermediaries, and mules in different Italian regions. The group had key facilitators who were acting from Dijon, Munich, London, and Vršac to coordinate the supply chain.

A selection of artifacts seized in “Operation Achei” (courtesy EUROJUST)

The looted artifacts, captured in 103 searches and seizures, include jars, jewelry, and vases from the 4th and 2nd century BCE that are worth millions of euros. Italian police officials told the Guardian that the thieves used bulldozers and advanced metal detectors to excavate the artifacts.

“The stolen finds were finally transferred abroad where they were put up for auction in important international auction houses and sold at very high figures,” an Italian said in a press conference earlier this week.

“The damage caused to the Italian cultural heritage by this criminal group is very significant as the criminals were looting archaeological sites for many years,” Europol said in a statement.

Correction 11/25/19: This article misattributed a quote about the sale of the stolen goods prior to the operation, originally stating that the goods would be auctioned after they were retrieved. We regret the error.

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