Saturday, January 31, 2015

Operation Aureus

European Police Arrest 35 And Recover Thousands of Stolen Cultural Artifacts

The Hague, the Netherlands
28 January 2015

Thirty-five individuals have been arrested and 2289 cultural artefacts seized, in an international operation supported by Europol to prevent the theft and trafficking of European cultural property.

Europe has a significant historical, artistic and culture heritage, which organised criminals groups are keen to exploit. In response, European law enforcement authorities in 14 countries* launched Operation Aureus, which culminated in a week-long coordinated action to prevent the further looting, theft and illicit trafficking of cultural artefacts.

As part of the action week, law enforcement authorities carried out checks on 6244 individuals, 8222 vehicles, 27 vessels, as well as 2352 inspections at antique and art dealers, auction houses and second-hand outlets. Checks were also stepped up at airports, land borders and ports, while information campaigns warned travellers about purchasing such objects. Specialised law enforcement units also performed checks on websites and online outlets suspected of selling cultural artefacts.

Speaking at a press conference earlier today, the Director-General of Guardia Civil and the General Director of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs confirmed that Spanish authorities had arrested five individuals, searched four properties and seized 36 Egyptian archaeological artefacts with a total value of between EUR 200 000 and 300 000. In addition mobile phones and various cash currency was confiscated, including EUR 10 000, during the action week which took place from 17-23 November 2014. The operation was named 'Hieratica' in Spain and was initiated by the Spanish Guardia Civil and the police of Cyprus.

Christian Jechoutek, Assistant Director at Europol, explained that Europol had supported Operation Aureus, which was part of the EU operational action plan against organised property crime, by conducting preparatory coordination meetings for the action, facilitating information exchange and providing intelligence to the participating countries. To support investigators on the spot, an experienced analyst, connected to Europol databases, was sent to the Guardia Civil command centre in Madrid.

The operation initiated 38 new investigations, with more expected. The operation's development was also supported by Interpol, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the cultural authorities of the participating countries:
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, United Kingdom.


According to this Europol announcement, and others such as this announcement in the Sofia Globe:,

a major international organized crime ring involved in illicit antiquities trafficking and smuggling has been disrupted and many of those allegedly involved have been arrested, while large numbers of artifacts alleged to have been illicitly excavated and/or smuggled have been seized.

Since legal actions are still pending it is not appropriate to comment on any particular case, or to describe those detained as criminals. However, it is appropriate to comment upon the principle of supporting and encouraging effective law enforcement.

This observer believes that the biggest practical and ethical problem plaguing the effective management and safeguarding of cultural heritage has been failure of law enforcement to prevent illicit antiquities excavations, trafficking and smuggling at the source, where and when these crimes take place. A consequence of this failure has been a perception on the part of some of those involved that the problem can only be dealt with by eliminating the market for antiquities. That perception, and a subsequent campaign by archaeologists to stigmatize and stifle the antiquities market and private antiquities collecting, has created significant conflict between archaeological and collecting interests.

It now appears that modern technology and improved methods of coordinating and disseminating information between law enforcement authorities may be changing this situation.

It is not necessary to apprehend every criminal every time he does something illicit to deter crime. It is sufficient to apprehend criminals often enough to make them believe that their actions are very risky, and that the prospective gains are not attractive enough to warrant running such risks.

Perhaps all of those involved on every side of the present controversy regarding antiquities collecting can agree upon the value of developing more effective law enforcement systems for controlling and deterring illicit antiquities excavations, trafficking and smuggling. In this observer's opinion, it would be far better to devote our mutual efforts to this goal rather than pursuing the illusion that the antiquities market can be eliminated.



Blogger Cultural Property Observer said...

THe other problem is bad laws. Allow metal detectors, but then don't expect people to use them, or, if they do expect people to turn in what they find with little prosepct of being compensated. The UK has a much better system that encourages metal detectorists to report what they find in return for the prospect of a fair market reward for what is kept by the State. Why this has not been adopted across Europe at least is beyond me. Perhaps, the desire of cultural bureaucrats to "control" is still too great. But, only where everyone is engaged is there hope that cultural patrimony will be respected by all.

4:58 AM  
Blogger Dave Welsh said...

I agree that there are bad laws in many "source states" and that the effective confiscation of finds without any compensation, in some cases with other adverse consequences to discoverers, is a practical deterrent to cooperation with authorities and an incentive to local "black market" disposal of artifacts.

Nevertheless, I believe that it is necessary to begin by enforcing the law and that once this step has been taken, perhaps it will then be possible to work toward improving the law.

It is the perspective that the law cannot otherwise be enforced that is ultimately driving UNESCO 1970 Convention actions to impose import restrictions upon artifacts including ancient coins.

If it becomes apparent that Europol and other international police authorities are able to deter illicit trafficking and smuggling of artifacts including ancient coins, I believe that the political climate for reassessing US implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention may become more favorable.

8:20 AM  

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