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Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Goods and Antiquities

Skulls in the mail: Indonesia foils artifact smuggling




Italian police arrest 23 suspects and recover 10,000 cultural items in archaeological trafficking crackdown



archaeological trafficking crackdown

A major international police operation led by investigators in Italy has resulted in the recovery 10,000 stolen cultural items and the arrest of 23 suspected antiquities smugglers.

Operation Achei was led by the Italian national police force’s Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

The initiative involved input from several other agencies, including Europol and law enforcement organisations from a number of other countries, namely the UK, Germany and Serbia.

Police in Italy started a probe into the gang’s activities back in 2017 while investigating the looting of archaeological sites in Calabria, southern Italy, where valuable cultural items from the Greek and Roman period were being stolen.

Members of the gang are said to have used bulldozers and metal detectors to locate the items they stole, before selling them on to to a network of buyers across Europe.

Investigators discovered the smuggling network was being run by an organised crime group headed up by a pair of Italian nationals living in the province of Crotone.

The two ringleaders led a network of looters, fences, intermediaries and mules who operated from various locations across Italy, as well as key facilitators working in locations such as Djion, Munich, London and Vršac.

Detectives in Italy said they believe the gang was involved in the illicit trafficking of antique items including vases, jewellery and jars that dated back as far as the 4th century BC.

As well as the arrest of the 23 suspects, the operation also led to a further 80 individuals from the UK, France, Germany and Serbia being placed under investigation.

In a statement, Europol said: “The damage caused to the Italian cultural heritage by this criminal group is very significant as it the criminals were looting archaeological sites for many years.

“Europol Analysis Project FURTUM supported the investigation by coordinating the information exchange, holding several operational meetings, preparing the action day and providing on-the-spot analytical support in Italy to cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases.

“Eurojust supported the execution of the European Investigation Orders and arranged a coordination centre to follow the action in real-time.”

Back in July, a major operation run by Europol and Interpol targeting the trafficking of cultural artefacts involving customs and police officers from 29 countries resulted in the recovery of 18,000 items and the arrest of 59 suspects.

Operation Pandora III saw investigators carry out inspections and raids at numerous locations across the globe, making 49 arrests and imposing 67 administrative sanctions at auction houses, art galleries, museums and private houses.


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Global crackdown on trafficking of cultural artefacts results in seizure of 18,000 items



global crackdown on trafficking of cultural artefacts

A Europol and Interpol-backed crackdown on the trafficking of cultural artefacts involving customs and police officers from 29 countries has resulted in the recovery of 18,000 items and the arrest of 59 suspects.

Operation Pandora III, which was also coordinated by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and Spain’s Guardia Civil, involved law enforcement agents focussing on key markets for smuggled cultural items with a view to disputing the organised criminal networks behind their trafficking.

The majority of seized items were recovered in European countries, but more than 30 were found in locations outside of Europe, such as Egypt, Iraq, Colombia and Morocco.

The week-long initiative, which took place at the end of October last year, saw investigators carry out inspections and raids at numerous locations, making 49 arrests and imposing 67 administrative sanctions at auction houses, art galleries, museums and private houses.

Law enforcement agents taking part in the effort also carried out checks at airports, seaports and land crossings, resulting in four arrests, three administrative sanctions and the seizure of 201 cultural items.

Elsewhere, inspections carried out at archaeological sites led to the arrest of six suspects, the issuing of 49 administrative sanctions and the discovery and seizure of 909 cultural goods.

A single operation carried out by police in Spain resulted in the discovery of some 10 000 archaeological artefacts, while investigators in Italy impounded 91 ceramic objects and 109 ancient coins in private properties and mail centres.

Separately, one investigation conducted by detectives in Poland resulted in the seizure of 419 cultural items, while law enforcement officials in the Netherlands found a 15th century bible that had been stolen in Germany over 25 years ago.

Meanwhile, German police confiscated an ancient Mesopotamian crystal cylinder seal that had been shipped into the country via the mail system.

In a statement, Europol said: “Given the transnational dimension of this crime, Europol, Interpol and the WCO established 24/7 operational coordination units to support information sharing as well as to disseminate alerts and warnings and perform cross-checks in different international and national databases.

“Europol… played a key role in implementing the entire operation by facilitating information exchange, and providing analytical and operational support.

“Officers made full use of Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art database, with several hundred searches performed during the operation.

“Experts from Europol, Interpol and the WCO were also deployed to provide analytical on-the-spot support over the course of the cyber patrol week.”

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Jihadi networks using Facebook to trade looted antiquities stolen from war-torn countries, report reveals



looted antiquities

Islamist terrorist networks are using Facebook Groups to trade looted antiquities stolen from conflict zones such as Syria, Libya and Yemen, according to a report from the Athar Project.

In analysis of 95 Arabic-language Facebook Groups set up to facilitate the trafficking of looted antiquities, the project, which is run by a group of volunteer anthropologists, discovered that such items are being traded by members of violent extremist organisations including Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham (HTS), Hurras Al-Din and the Zinki Brigade.

All of these jihadi factions, along with several other Daesh and al-Qa’ida affiliates, are said to be actively using the Groups to trade antiquities stolen from war-torn countries across the Middle East and North Africa, including items that were looted by Daesh in Iraq and Syria before the final collapse of its so-called caliphate in March of this year.

Members of these networks are said to be either using Facebook to trade directly with buyers, or as a means by which to manage relationships with middlemen who sell to dealers and members of the public.

The project found that administrators of these Groups are highly interconnected and have a global reach, noting that a US antiques dealer is linked with one individual involved with the running of multiple trafficking pages on Facebook.

Administrators are said to demand a commission on any sales that are secured as a result of contact made through their Groups, blocking any members who refuse to hand over payment.

Researchers discovered that the 95 Groups analysed for their study were managed by 488 individual administrators, and had 1,947,195 members.

“Facebook offers a veritable digital toolbox for traffickers to utilise, including photo and video uploads, live streaming, disappearing ‘Stories’, payment mechanisms, and encrypted messaging,” the report reads.

“Facebook is the perfect platform for a one-stop shop black market. This in turn has made Facebook the wild west of social media, providing opportunities for violent extremist organisations and criminal groups to operate in plain sight with little recourse.”

Facebook and other social media platforms have become vital tools for organised criminal networks, allowing them to communicate over encrypted internet connections and link up with buyers they might otherwise not be able to reach.

Over the course of the past 18 months alone, Facebook has been accused of facilitating the crimes of people smugglers, wildlife criminals and sex traffickers.

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