Greek and Cypriot police participated in a crackdown on international art trafficking that recovered 11,049 stolen artefacts, including ancient coins and books and a marble bust believed to represent the niece of a Roman emperor, across 14 countries, Europol said on Thursday.
Sixty people were arrested in the raids last year, part of so-called ‘Operation Pandora’ launched by the European police force in 2016 and renewed annually since then.
Among the recovered artefacts were over 3,000 ancient coins, 77 ancient books stolen from the archives of a monastery, and a Roman marble bust of a woman believed to represent Salonia Matidia, niece of Trajan, Roman emperor from 98-117 A.D.
Spain led the latest reported Pandora crackdown with the support of Europol and Interpol, while Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and Bosnia took part.
Pandora VII led to the recovery of the following stolen artefacts, among others:
- 77 ancient books in Italy which the Italian Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Arma dei Carabinieri) seized from an online marketplace. The books had been stolen from the archives of a monastery.
- A Roman marble bust of a woman which was recovered by the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) in Sevilla, Spain. The sculpture is believed to represent Salonia Matidia, the niece of the emperor Traian.
- 3 073 ancient coins, seized from an online sales platform by the Polish Police Service. An additional 117 Dacian and Roman coins were also recovered by Romanian law enforcement after an archaeological site was looted.
- 48 religious sculptures and other religious artefacts were recovered by the Portuguese authorities. These objects are believed to have been linked to a series of 15 robberies carried out in churches across northern Portugal between 1992 and 2003. An additional 41 religious and liturgical objects (icons, altarpieces mouldings, etc.) were also confiscated by the Hellenic Police after a house search in Greece.
- 13 archaeological artefacts (jewellery, among other things) from the Russian Federation were seized at a post office in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
According to Europol, this iteration of the annual Pandora operation consisted of an operational phase which ran between 13 to 24 September 2022 and which saw several thousands of checks being carried out at various airports, ports and border crossing points, as well as in auction houses, museums and private houses.
Two cyber patrol weeks were organised in the course of Pandora VII, in May and October respectively, with over 8,495 checks being conducted online and 4,017 stolen goods seized.
Some 130 investigations are still ongoing, as a result of which more seizures and arrests are anticipated.