An exhaustive investigation spanning across 28 countries by European authorities resulted in recovery of nearly 10,000 artifacts.
The artifacts were seized by the Spanish police, who was working alongside Interpol, Europol and World Customs Organization. The objective of the joint investigation was to target illegal trafficking and trade of cultural artifacts, most of them stolen, betwene June and September 2021. As part of the investigation, the authorities carried out checks at airports and borders, along with raids in auction houses, museums and private homes. During the raids, 52 people were arrested for involvement in the smuggling operations.
More than 9,400 artifacts were seized in various raids carried out by the agencies, across 28 countries. In France, Aztec artifacts and Pre-Columbian statues were seized. In Spain, Roman-era gold coins, estimated to be worth $1 million and looted from archaeological sites, were found. Similarly, 79 various archaeological objects were seized in Italy. Many of the stolen works were returned to their original owners, like a 13th century cross looted from the Evangelical Church Museum in Romania returned to the museum. Stolen fine arts like paintings, however, were rare to be recovered. These included two paintings by Dutch artist Kees Verweij, that was stolen from an auction house in Amsterdam.
The exhaustive investigation was part of a larger joint operation that was launched in 2016. The operation, which included countries from EU, the UK and the US, aimed for a collaborative effort among authorities to stop the illegal trafficking of cultural objects and fine art. In a police statement, the authorities revealed that more than 170 investigations are still underway, so more arrests and recovery of artifacts could be expected in coming months.