101 arrested, 19,000 stolen artefacts recovered in international crackdown

Filed on May 6, 2020
athena 2 operation, interpol. antique smuggling, europe, crime

(Interpol, Europol)

Global Operation ATHENA II was led by the WCO and Interpol.

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, announced Interpol.

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 Organisation, WCO, and Interpol, which was carried out in synchronisation with the Europe-focused Operation PANDORA IV coordinated by the Spanish Civil Guard, Guardia Civil, and Europol in the framework of EMPACT.

Operational highlights include Afghan Customs seizing 971 cultural objects at Kabul airport just as the objects were about to depart for Istanbul. A joint effort between the Spanish National Police and Colombian Police 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.

Furthermore, the investigation of a single case of online sale led to the seizure of 2,500 ancient coins by the Argentinian Federal Police Force, the largest seizure for this category of items, while the second largest seizure was made by Latvian State Police for a total of 1,375 coins. Six European Police forces also reported the seizure of a hundred and eight metal detectors, demonstrating that looting in Europe is still an ongoing business.

This is the second time that Europol, Interpol and the WCO have joined forces to tackle the illicit trade in cultural heritage.

"The number of arrests and objects show the scale and global reach of the illicit trade in cultural artefacts, where every country with a rich heritage is a potential target," said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock.

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