Wednesday 6 May 2020

Europol Seizes 108 Metal Detectors "looting in Europe is still an ongoing business"

In what has been described as a 'coordinated crackdown', 101 people have been arrested, 300 investigations opened, and 19,000 stolen artefacts recovered as part of a global operation spanning 103 countries and focusing on the dismantlement of international networks of art and antiquities traffickers (Interpol press release: '101 arrested and 19,000 stolen artefacts recovered in international crackdown on art trafficking', 6 May 2020
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 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. Details of both Operations, which ran in the autumn of 2019, can only be released now due to operational reasons.
This is very unclear, this is a conflation of two separate actions, Operation Athena and Operation Pandora IV (the Pandora Operations tend to be carried out in Autumn, but only announced much later on in the following year - for 'operational reasons'). The problem is it is not clear which organizstion was responsible for which part of the results summarised in this press release.  But then to which of the two does this other action belong? Since a huge amount of antiquities trading goes on online, law enforcement officers paid particular attention to the monitoring of online market places and sales sites:
During what was called a ‘cyber patrol week’ and under the leadership of the Italian Carabinieri (Arma dei Carabinieri), police and customs experts along with Europol, INTERPOL and the WCO mapped active targets and developed intelligence packages. As a result, 8,670 cultural objects for online sale were seized. This represents 28% of the total number of artefacts recovered during this international crackdown.
The operational highlights show the wide scope of the investigation, but also how widespread this type of activity is. But then do these belong to Pandora IV, Athena II or something else entirely?
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 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.
The investigation of a single case of online sale led to the seizure of 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.
Six European Police forces reported the seizure of a hundred and eight metal detectors, demonstrating that looting in Europe is still an ongoing business.
Remember the British Museum guy pandering to the antiquities dealers advocate who said that there were "not many [coins] actually" in the illicit trade? Another thing he was misreporting - but why? Down the corridor is the Portable Antiquities Scheme, partnering metal detectorists, and they'd never call their friends "looters", either.  Something very wrong in Bloomsbury.

See below for the Europol video.

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