Police in Bulgaria have arrested members of an organised crime gang in Bulgaria and have recovered over 4,600 archaeological items during a sting operation.
The gang had established a smuggling ring via Germany as their transit country and transported the items to the UK by private transport operators.
The operation was coordinated by Europol and was conducted by the General Directorate for the Fight against Organised Crime of the Bulgarian Ministry of Internal Affairs in conjunction with the British Metropolitan Police and the German State Criminal Police of Bavaria (Bayerisches Landeskriminalamt) as part of an operation named MEDICUS.
The gang had ransacked ancient sites in Bulgaria and trafficked stolen archaeological goods whose total worth exceeds several millions of euros for sale to the legitimate art market in the UK.
This modus operandi takes advantage of the fact that the existence of these goods is not officially known, therefore their illicit origin can be hidden by providing them with a false back story (fake documents of provenance). This raises the question about the legitimacy of items sold through auction houses in the UK and whether the provenance is properly verified for authenticity.
Most of the items recovered date from the Roman period and were looted from Roman military camps and ancient forts in Northern Bulgaria. Among the trafficked items were ceramics, glass funeral urns, lamps, arrowheads, spears and ancient coins. Several artefacts also date from the Bronze Age, early Iron Age, Middle Ages and Ottoman period.
5 gang members were arrested in Bulgaria, and 3 in the United Kingdom (UK) as they entered the UK with a significant quantity of archaeological material concealed within a vehicle.
The operation dates to October of last year, the details of which can only be released now due to operational reasons by Europol.
Header Image Credit : Europol