For the last decade the leading European police and law enforcement agencies have been fighting organised crime gangs involvd in the smuggling of stolen culturally valuable goods and artifacts under the Operation Pandora investigations.
Despite constraints imposed by COVID-19 restrictions across the continent the latest Pandora operation targeting the illicit trafficking of cultural goods has been the most successful to date, with more than 56,400 cultural goods seized in 2020.
Objects recovered include rare archaeological objects, furniture, coins, paintings, musical instruments and sculptures.
The operation, led this time by the Spanish Civil Guard ran between 1 June and 31 October 2020 as Operation Pandora V, and saw the involvement of customs and other law enforcement authorities from 31 countries including Spain involved.
In addition the Spanish Civil Guard were supported by officers from Europol and INTERPOL.
The Spanish operation saw the recovery of over 7,700 culturally valuable artifacts, including archaeological objects, rare coins, sculptures and statues, weapons, paintings and archives of sound, film and photography with a value estimated at over 9 million Euros.
During the operational phase, the Civil Guard also finalized a complex investigation initiated within the framework of an earlier Pandora III operation which resulted in the arrest of a suspect and the recovery of 94 stolen objects that had been hidden in churches as well as the seizure of 165,000 Euros in cash.
The detainee was cought trying to sell these stolen goods online which included a 16th century silver chalice and an illuminated manuscript of the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana.
During the operational phase, tens of thousands of checks and controls were carried out in various airports, ports, border crossing points, as well as in auction houses, museums and private residences.
So far 67 individuals have been arrested across Europe, including France, Sweden, Italy, Germany and Greece.
Given the global nature of this crime, operation coordination units working 24/7 were established by Europol on one side, and INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization, to support the exchange of information as well as disseminate alerts, warnings and perform cross- checks against international and national databases.