19,000 archaeological artifacts and other artworks have been recovered in a global operation spanning 103 countries, 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 were stolen from museums and archaeological sites.
The sweep was carried out in an operation dubbed 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 in the framework of EMPACT.
These were the results :-
- 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 jewelry. 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.
- 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.
“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.
“If you then take the significant amounts of money involved and the secrecy of the transactions, this also presents opportunities for money laundering and fraud as well as financing organized crime networks,” added the INTERPOL Chief.