Nearly 10,000 artefacts, including ancient coins, paintings, musical instruments and sculptures, were recovered during a months-long operation carried out by European authorities in 28 countries.
More than 9,400 items were seized in the operation overseen by members of the Spanish police in conjunction with Europol, Interpol and the World Customs Organization. Fifty-two people were arrested during the operation targeting the illegal trafficking of cultural objects, which was carried out between June and September 2021.
As part of the ongoing effort, more than 170 investigations are still ongoing, and additional seizures of cultural objects and arrests are expected to take place, police operation officials said in a statement. The mission involved seizures at airports and border checkpoints, as well as auction houses, museums and private residences. It is part of an ongoing operation launched in 2016 involving authorities from nearly 30 European Union countries, as well as the United Kingdom and the United States.
In France, pre-Columbian statues and Aztec artifacts have been seized by authorities. Meanwhile, Roman Empire gold coins worth an estimated $1 million that had been looted from archaeological sites in Spain have been found. Italian police have seized 79 archaeological artefacts from localities in the Mediterranean. And a seized 13th-century cross has been returned to the Evangelical Church Museum of Cisnadie in Romania, where it was stolen in 2016.
Two paintings by Kees Verweij, a Dutch artist active in the first half of the 20th century, were among the few stolen works of art to be recovered during the four-month operation. The paintings were reported stolen after being sold at an unnamed auction house in Amsterdam.