European police have arrested scores of suspects and seized thousands of stolen artefacts after a joint physical and cyber operation last year, according to Europol.
Operation Pandora VII involved police from Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As with previous iterations, the aim was to crack down on a thriving international trade in stolen art. Led by Spain’s Guardia Civil and backed by Europol and Interpol, officers across the region arrested 60 people and recovered 11,049 stolen artefacts.
A large part of the operation was carried out online, where ancient artefacts are often traded.
During two “cyber patrol” weeks in May and October last year, officers ran 8495 checks and seized 4017 stolen goods. These included:
- 77 ancient books, which the Italian Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Arma dei Carabinieri) seized from an online marketplace. The books were originally stolen from the archives of a monastery
- 3073 ancient coins, liberated from an online sales platform by the Polish Police Service
As part of the operation, pan-regional police also carried out thousands of checks at airports, ports and border crossing points, and in auction houses, museums and private houses, Europol explained.
Some of the recovered artefacts had been stolen in robberies of churches in northern Portugal over a decade-long period.
Europol said that 130 investigations are ongoing, which means more seizures and arrests are expected.
The annual Operation Pandora initiative was first launched in 2016, with officers referring to Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art Database to identify missing items.