International Antiquities Trafficking Sting Yields 19,000 Artifacts

A gold Tumaco mask found among gold figurines and ancient jewelry recovered at Madrid's Barajas airport (Courtesy of Interpol)

Authorities Recover 19,000 Artifacts in International Antiquities Trafficking Sting

By Theresa Machemer/

A joint operation undertaken by Interpol, Europol, the World Customs Organization and local police forces has recovered 19,000 artifacts from 103 countries, the global policing organization announced this week. Objects recovered range from a pre-Hispanic gold mask to a trove of ancient coins and Roman figurines. Authorities arrested 101 people as part of the crackdown.

The undercover operations, dubbed Athena II and Pandora IV, took place last fall. Due to “operational reasons” cited in the statement, the missions’ results were withheld until now.

Pandora IV is the latest in a series of similarly titled stings. Per the Art Newspaper’s Kabir Jhala, previous Pandora operations led to the recovery of 62,500 artifacts between 2017 and 2019. Last November, Europol separately announced the recovery of 10,000 artifacts through Operation Achei.

“The hundreds of arrests and investigations launched—and thousands of objects seized—must be a wake-up call for those in government and in the art world,” Deborah Lehr, founder of the nonprofit Antiquities Coalition, tells artnet News’ Taylor Dafoe. “This is a critical reminder, coming at an equally critical time, that when it comes to ancient art, buyers should beware.”

The joint operation targeted international networks of art and antiquities traffickers who loot objects from “war-stricken countries, … museums and archaeological sites,” according to the statement. …Read More:

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