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CRIME

Italian police bust smuggling gang looting ancient artefacts

The gang used bulldozers and metal detectors to dig up and loot objects dating from 400 BC, including ancient Greek vases and jewels, in southern Italy before smuggling them out of the country.

Italian police bust smuggling gang looting ancient artefacts
Photo: DepositPhotos

European police have busted an international crime gang involved in trafficking tens of thousands of Greek archaeological artefacts looted from illegal excavations in Italy, law enforcement agencies said on Monday.

Police from Italy, Britain, France, Germany and Serbia arrested 23 suspects and carried out 103 searches in the investigation that started in 2017, the EU police agency Europol and Eurojust said.

The artefacts were looted in the southern Calabria region – the “toe” of Italy – before being smuggled out of the country and sold across Europe.

Screenshot: Google Maps

“Illegal excavations were managed by a well-structured organised crime group… led by two Calabrians” living in the southern province of Crotone, the agencies said in a combined statement.

In Calabria “the cultural heritage includes important traces from the Greek and Roman period”, Europol said.

There are several important archaeological sites near Crotone, including  the site of a ruined ancient Greek temple at Capo Colonna.

Italian media said two Calabrian men aged 59 and 30 had been arrested.

The gang also included “fences, intermediaries and mules operating out of different Italian regions” with the looted artefacts then going through contacts in Dijon, Munich, London and Vrsac in northeastern Serbia.

Some of the stolen objects are said to date as far back as the fourth and third centuries B.C. and include five terracotta vases and oil lamps, plates depicting animal scenes, brooches and various jewels, Italian media reports said.

The ruins of an ancient Greek temple at Capo Colonne, Calabria. Photo: Depositphotos

The looters used bulldozers to dig craters, before sifting through the earth and passing it through metal detectors, the reports added, quoting police sources.

“The looting carried out over the course of several years caused considerable damage to Italian cultural heritage,” Europol and Eurojust added.

Coordination between the two agencies enabled “arrests, searches and seizures immediately and simultaneously in the five countries,” they added.

Italy has the highest number of art thefts in the world, and has its own special “art police” squad – Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC), or the Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage – tasked with tracking down stolen artworks and artefacts, many of which are found to have been smuggled abroad.

Last year, three ancient artefacts were returned to Italy by US officials after they were traced to an auction house in New York.

READ ALSO:

Italian and Swiss police in 2016 recovered a haul of archaeological artefacts stolen from Italy and stored by a notorious British antiquities dealer.

The haul, worth nine million euros, was discovered in 2014 in a storage unit at the Geneva Freeport rented by Britain's disgraced Robin Symes, a giant in the illegal antiquities trade with ties to Italian tomb raiders.

In the last year alone, 8,405 artworks, scultpures, ancient artefacts and other treasures have gone missing in Italy according to the latest police reports.

An ancient Roman sculpture stolen in Italy and put up for sale at a Dutch auction house in 2016. Photo: Remko de Waal ANP/AFP

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CRIME

Italy remembers murdered anti-mafia judge Falcone

Italy commemorated the death of Italian judge Giovanni Falcone on Monday, thirty years after the brutal Capaci bombing.

Italy remembers murdered anti-mafia judge Falcone

The entire country paid tribute on Monday to anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, killed by the Sicilian mafia 30 years ago in a car bomb murder that shocked the country.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese laid a wreath at the memorial at the site of the blast at Capaci, near Palermo, that killed Falcone, his wife, and three members of his police escort on May 23rd 1992.

Another ceremony in Palermo was attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, whose brother Piersanti, then Sicily’s regional president, was also murdered by the mafia.

In a statement, Prime Minister Mario Draghi hailed the legacy of Falcone, saying that thanks to his “courage, professionalism and determination, Italy has become a freer and fairer country”.

He said Falcone and his colleagues – one of whom, Paolo Borsellino, was killed by Cosa Nostra two months later – “dealt decisive blows against the mafia”.

“Their heroism had rooted anti-mafia values in society, in new generations, in republican institutions,” he added, saying the “relentless fight against organised crime and […] the search for truth” must continue.

The mob used a skateboard to place a 500-kilogramme (1100-pound) charge of TNT and ammonium nitrate in a tunnel under the motorway which linked the airport to the centre of Palermo.

Falcone, driving a white Fiat Croma, was returning from Rome for the weekend. At a look-out point on the hill above, a mobster nicknamed “The Pig” pressed the remote control button as the judge’s three-car convoy passed.

The blast ripped through the asphalt, shredding bodies and metal, and flinging the lead car several hundred metres.

READ ALSO: How murdered judge Giovanni Falcone shaped Italy’s fight against the mafia

On July 19th, Borsellino was also killed in a car bomb attack, along with five members of his escort. Only his driver survived.

Falcone posed a real threat to Cosa Nostra, an organised crime group made famous by The Godfather trilogy, and which boasted access to the highest levels of Italian power.

He and Borsellino were later credited with revolutionising the understanding of the mafia, working closely with the first informants and compiling evidence for a groundbreaking ‘maxi-trial’ in which hundreds of mobsters were convicted in 1987.

“Thanks to Falcone and Borsellino, the Sicilian mafia became a notorious fact, not something that had to be proved to exist at every trial,” anti-mafia prosecutor Marzia Sabella told AFP.

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