Busted: International Antiquities Trafficking Ring

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Police from five different countries collaborated to recover the stolen artifacts. (Europol)

Authorities Recover 10,000 Artifacts Stolen by International Antiquities Trafficking Ring

by Theresa Machemer/Smithsonian.com

On Monday, authorities busted an international archaeological crime scheme in a sting dubbed “Operation Achei.” Per a press release, more than 350 police officers across five countries worked together to recover 10,000 ancient Greek and Roman artifacts stolen from archaeological sites in the Calabria region of southern Italy.

The Italian Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage led the investigation with support from the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol. The Carabinieri’s “culture commandos” have the skills of “archaeologists, paleontologists, art historians and combat-trained shock troops,” wrote National Geographic’s Frank Viviano in 2015.



Operation Achei began in 2017 with a focus on Calabria, the “toe” of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula. The artifact traffickers allegedly used a backhoe-like excavator to dig up sections of known archaeological sites near the Hera Lacinia, according to the Associated Press. They then sifted through the disturbed areas with sophisticated metal detectors, Italian police officials told the Guardians Lorenzo TondoThe illicit excavators wore ski masks to hide their identities, but during one heist, the license plate of a parked car showed up on the police’s drone video surveillance.

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