Wednesday 28 January 2015

Spain's Guardia Civil seizes 36 Looted Egyptian antiquities

On the back of 'Operation Aureus', the Spanish civil guard warns that jihadism has entered the trafficking of stolen cultural property.
The director of the Civil Guard, Arsenio Fernandez de Mesa, said Wednesday that terrorism jihad might be "nourished and seek economic backgrounds" through smuggling of cultural items of high value. Fernandez de Mesa was speaking during the presentation to the media of the 36 archaeological objects of Egyptian origin that agents of the Heritage Group of the Central Operational Unit of the Civil Guard has seized at the port of Valencia, in the context of Operation hieratic. The operation was carried out in coordination between the Civil Guard, the Tax Office and the Ministry of Culture as part of a wider operation called AUREUS and directed by Europol and developed in 16 countries, 11 of them European. Five people have been arrested in Spain (four Egyptians and a Spanish antiquities dealer) and two in Egypt, a country where the investigation remains open. They are accused of alleged smuggling of cultural goods, laundering capital and belonging to an international criminal group, so that the maximum penalty facing them would be fifteen years imprisonment. 
Arsenio Fernández highlighted the work of the 3700 agents of the Heritage Group of the Central Operational Unit of the Civil Guard from the beginning of the operation on June 2nd, when they detected suspicious containers at the port of Valencia, until it ended on November 19 with the arrests. The material recovered, which it is believed may have been looted from the Egyptian archaeological sites of Saqqara and Mit Rahina, came hidden in decorative pots of little value.

A sculpted head of the goddess Sekhmet was recovered, which would have netted the culture ciminals around 100,000 euros. Other items sezed on their way to greedy unscrupulous collectors were canopic jars, wooden sarcophagi and a wooden chest. These objects are being kept for the moment in the National Archaeological Museum.
The director of the Civil Guard recalled that UNESCO revealed during the meeting held last December in Paris, the proliferation of criminal groups arising from armed conflicts in the Middle East and neighboring countries, where certain terrorist groups use the illicit trafficking in cultural property for funding. While the Civil Guard has stated that this operation is not directly linked to terrorism, they do not rule out a relationship, since some of the detainees have criminal records.
Alajandra Elorza, 'La Guardia Civil advierte de que el yihadismo ha entrado en el tráfico de bienes culturales robados' El Mundo 28th Jan 2015 


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