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Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Goods and Antiquities

Skulls in the mail: Indonesia foils artifact smuggling

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Border officers at Cairo airport discover mummified human remains in hollowed out loudspeakers

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Customs officers at Egypt’s Cairo International Airport have discovered mummified human remains stashed inside two speakers, according to a statement issued by the country’s Ministry of Antiquities.

After inspecting the speakers, which had been hollowed out to accommodate the remains, investigators were able to identify six separate body parts belonging to two mummies, including feet, hands and parts of a torso.

Border inspectors found the mummified remains after noticing anomalies while scanning a parcel containing the speakers that was bound for Belgium, prompting them to further examine the package’s contents.

The Ministry of Antiquities has not identified who was behind the shipment, or specified whether any arrests have been made in connection with its discovery.

Officials said the remains would be transferred to archaeologists working at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where they would be studied further and restored.

It is hoped that tests carried out at the museum might shed light on where the body parts originate from.

In a post on Facebook, the ministry wrote: “An archaeological committee examined it and confirmed its authenticity.

“They are now confiscated according to the Antiquities Protection law and its amendments. The parts are now at the Egyptian museum for restoration.”

According to the Egyptian Law on the Protection of Antiquities, “all antiquities are strictly regulated and considered to be the property of the State”.

The smuggling out of the country of any such items, including mummified remains, is punishable with a jail term of up to two years.

Last month, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York said it had returned a gilded coffin to Egypt after learning it had been stolen in 2011.

Commenting on the return of the item, Daniel Weiss, President and CEO at the museum, said: “After we learned that the Museum was a victim of fraud and unwittingly participated in the illegal trade of antiquities, we worked with the District Attorney’s office for its return to Egypt.

“The nation of Egypt has been a strong partner of the Museum’s for over a century. We extend our apologies to Dr Khaled El-Enany, Minister of Antiquities, and the people of Egypt, and our appreciation to District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr’s office for its investigation, and now commit ourselves to identifying how justice can be served, and how we can help to deter future offenses against cultural property.”

Live Science reports that cultural objects estimated to be worth some $50 million were smuggled out of Egypt to the US in 2016.

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Bulgarian and Spanish police dismantle cultural goods-smuggling gang that sold archaeological artefacts online

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Tens of thousands of archaeological artefacts have been recovered in a major European law enforcement operation designed to crack down on organised criminals involved in the trafficking of cultural goods.

In total, Spanish and Bulgarian investigators taking part in Operation Sardica, which was backed with support from Europol and Eurojust, seized more than 30,000 items in a day of action that took place at the end of last month.

The effort saw officers conduct raids on 17 properties in Spain and Bulgaria, arrest 13 suspected members of the organised smuggling network, and seize €180,000 (£205,063) in cash.

Spain’s Civil Guard said the gang used the internet to sell large numbers of archaeological artefacts that had been stolen from a number of mostly Bulgarian archaeological sites, including Greek and Roman coins, rings, fibulas, ceramics, helmets, funeral urns, lamps, arrowheads and spears.

Items used to locate metal underground such as metal detectors were also found during the property searches, as well as tools to artificially age objects.

Once the items had been excavated, the criminal gang would transport them to Spain, from where they would be sold online on popular auction sites.

On these platforms, the trafficking gang would have users place false bids on items to artificially increase their sale price.

The smugglers are also said to have been involved in the production of counterfeit archaeological items.

Prior to the day of action, investigators were able to establish that while the Spanish end of the criminal enterprise was based mainly in Valencia, it also had a presence in Alicante, Murcia, Segovia and Zaragoza, as well as in Bulgaria.

In a statement, Europol said: “The smooth coordination and exchange of information were instrumental in the success of this investigation. Europol brought together the different involved police forces to help them connect the dots between their own national investigations and provided analytical support before and during the action day.

“A mobile office was deployed on-the-spot in Valencia (Spain) to help with the cross checking of operational information against Europol’s databases, alongside an expert being present  at the coordination centre set up at Eurojust to coordinate the execution of the arrest warrants and searches.”

Back in July, a coalition of European law enforcement agencies participated in a Europol-backed operation that resulted in the recovery of some 25,000 stolen archaeological artefacts estimated to be worth €40 million.

Europol said the operation revealed the criminal networks behind the illegal excavation and sale of antiquities across the EU are highly organised.

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Tens of thousands of stolen cultural artefacts recovered in raids across Europe

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European law enforcement agencies yesterday took part in a Europol-backed operation that resulted in the recovery of some 25,000 stolen archaeological artefacts estimated to be worth €40 million ($47 million).

In a series of coordinated raids across Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK, over 250 detectives searched 40 properties, arresting a total of 23 suspects who were questioned in connection with the seized items.

The operation, which was the culmination of a four-year investigation started by Italian officers specialised in the trafficking of cultural artefacts, revealed that the criminal networks behind the illegal excavation and sale of antiquities across the EU are highly organised.

London-based art dealer William Veres, 64, who was served with an international warrant, is said to have been at the head of the ancient artefact trafficking ring, and stands accused of commissioning the illegal excavation of cultural items from a number of sites in Sicily.

Elsewhere, officers taking part in the operation detained 20 Italian nationals in Italy, one in Spain, and one in Germany.

The tens of thousands of cultural objects impounded by investigators included antique coins, statues and pottery, as well as a number of counterfeit artefacts.

Prior to the day of action, some 3,000 archaeologic goods and 1,200 fake cultural items had already been seized by police in Italy.

Additionally, some 1,500 tools such as metal detectors used by illegal diggers were confiscated.

In a statement, Europol said: “This investigation once more shows that international cooperation is key to the success of such investigations in the field of trafficking of cultural goods, in which artefacts are moved through several EU countries and levels before they are brought to the legal market.

“Europol, with its unique analytical capacity, once again proved its key role as criminal information hub and facilitator of international Law Enforcement cooperation.”

In February, a separate operation backed by the World Customs Organisation (WCO), Interpol and Europol resulted in the seizure of over 41,000 stolen cultural items in more than 80 countries.

Operation Athena and the Europe-focused Operation Pandora II saw investigators carry out raids on multiple auction houses, museums and private homes in various locations across the globe.

Stolen cultural artefacts are commonly looted during times of conflict, and are routinely used to fund other forms of criminality and terrorist activity.

Before its so-called caliphate was crushed in parts of Iraq and Syria, the United Nations estimated that Daesh was making as much as $200 million a year from selling off looted antiquities.

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