Police in Italy Busted a Major Antiquities Trafficking Ring, Seizing Some 3,500 Relics in the Process 

Twenty-one suspects faces charges of criminal conspiracy, theft, and the illegal export of goods. 

A member of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage examining ancient ceramics during an investigation into an antiquities trafficking ring in Italy.

Police in Italy seized more than 3,500 ancient artifacts during a major bust of an international trafficking ring this week.  

Sixteen people across multiple locations were arrested, while five others remain at large. The suspects face charges that include criminal conspiracy, theft, and the illegal export of goods, according to Reuters. 

The investigation, which began last fall, was led by the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, a special unit dedicated to crimes involving art and antiquities. The probe led them to several sites in Southern Italy associated with the trafficking ring, including operational bases and illegal dig sites in the regions of Basilicata, Campania, and Puglia.

Surprise raids of these locations yielded ancient ceramics, jewelry, and bronze, gold, and silver coins dating from the 4th century B.C.E. to the 3rd century C.E. Authorities also recovered excavation tools like metal detectors and documentation of illicit transactions in Italy and abroad.

Among those involved in the elaborate criminal operation were grave robbers, fences, and exporters. The latter group is believed to have facilitated sales of illegally sourced relics to auction houses abroad.

In a statement, the Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Vincenzo Molinese, called his unit’s effort an “investigative success” that “demonstrates unequivocally how our territory still holds immeasurable treasures prey to grave robbers and unscrupulous traffickers.”

Italy’s Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano, described the investigation as a “brilliant operation.” He added that the Ministry’s “database of illicitly stolen cultural assets,” thought to be the largest resource of its kind in the world, proved to be particularly helpful in this and other recent investigations, as the country has continued to crack down on illegal digs and antiquities sales.


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