European Officials Bust International Art and Antiquities Trafficking Ring

Guardia Civil
Guardia Civil / Guardia Civil

European officials have arrested 75 individuals for allegedly trafficking stolen art and archaeological treasures, in a sweeping operation that dissolved an international crime ring, NBC News reports. More than 3500 artifacts and pieces of art were recovered, including a marble Ottoman tombstone, rare coins, and Byzantine/post-Byzantine artifacts.

Led by Spanish and Cypriot police, the operation—dubbed Operation Pandora—involved Interpol, the World Customs Organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and 16 other European countries. The transcontinental investigation was launched last fall, and arrests began in November.

Officials recently announced that Operation Pandora was a success. According to Europol, 3561 cultural objects were seized, nearly half of which were archaeological objects. Five hundred of them were discovered in Murcia, Spain; 19 had been stolen from the city’s Archaeological Museum in 2014. Officials also recovered artifacts in Greece, UNESCO says—including the aforementioned Ottoman tombstone and post-Byzantine icons of Saint George and other saints—and tracing “suspicious online advertisements” led to the seizure of over 400 ancient coins, all from different periods.

It’s unclear why officials didn’t announce the arrests until this month, NPR reports. As for the recovered objects, a full inventory hasn't been issued yet, but officials have said that most of them were seized from warring nations.

“The aim of Operation Pandora was to dismantle criminal networks involved in cultural theft and exploitation, and identify potential links to other criminal activities,” Europol said in a news statement. “Moreover, there was a special focus on cultural spoliation, both underwater and on land, and the illicit trafficking of cultural goods, with a particular emphasis on conflict countries.”

As Europol explained in the statement, cultural spoliation is the act of taking goods by force, particularly in times of war.

Check out some of the recovered artifacts below:

All photos courtesy of Guardia Civil

[h/t NBC News]