Spain lifts veil on secret operation against art traffickers

The Spanish Interior Ministry announced on Sunday (22 January) that 75 people had been arrested as part of a police operation to tackle an international art trafficking ring.

Code-named Pandora, the crackdown took place between October and November 2016. It targeted a network of criminal gangs trading in art and cultural objects stolen from war-torn countries and museums. 

Led by Cypriot and Spanish police, Pandora involved investigators from 18 mostly European Union countries including the UK in addition to Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. 48,588 individuals have been investigated and 92 new investigations have been opened as a result of the operation.

So far 3,561 objects have been recovered including:

  • A Byzantine image of St George;
  • A marble tombstone from the Ottoman Empire;
  • Over 400 ancient coins some of which were found for sale online; and
  • 19 items stolen from an archaeological museum in Murcia in southeastern Spain in 2014.

Pandora was spearheaded by multinational police agencies Europol and Interpol with the assistance of the World Customs Organisation and UNESCO. Europol coordinated efforts while Interpol contributed information from its database of 50,000 works registered as stolen.

Following Sunday’s announcement, Spanish authorities have remained tight-lipped over the exact details of the stolen objects recovered as part of the operation and the locations where the arrests were made.



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