Cultural Heritage TraffickingNews

International art trafficking operation leads to 60 arrests and over 11,000 objects recovered

Law enforcement has arrested 60 people and recovered 11,049 stolen artefacts as part of a major international art trafficking crackdown across 14 INTERPOL member countries.

Codenamed Pandora VII, this operation was led by Spain (Guardia Civil), with the support of Europol and INTERPOL.

This iteration of the annual Pandora operation consisted of an operational phase which ran between 13 to 24 September 2022 and saw thousands of checks carried out at various airports, ports and border crossing points, as well as in auction houses, museums and private houses.

Two cyber patrol weeks were organized in the course of Pandora VII, in May and October 2022 respectively, with over 8,495 checks being conducted online and 4,017 stolen goods seized.

Some 130 investigations are still ongoing, as a result of which more seizures and arrests are anticipated as investigators around the globe go after those spoiling and destroying cultural heritage.

Operational highlights

Pandora VII led to the recovery of the following stolen artefacts, among others:

  • 77 ancient books in Italy which the Italian Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage seized from an online marketplace. The books had been stolen from the archives of a monastery.
  • A Roman marble bust of a woman which was recovered by the Civil Guard in Sevilla, Spain. The sculpture is believed to represent Salonia Matidia, the niece of the emperor Traian.
  • 3,073 ancient coins, seized from an online sales platform by the Polish Police Service. An additional 117 Dacian and Roman coins were also recovered by Romanian law enforcement after an archaeological site was looted.
  • 48 religious sculptures and other religious artefacts were recovered by the Portuguese authorities. These objects are believed to have been linked to a series of 15 robberies carried out in churches across northern Portugal between 1992 and 2003. An additional 41 religious and liturgical objects (icons, altarpieces mouldings, etc.) were also confiscated by the Hellenic Police after a house search in Greece.
  • 13 archaeological artefacts (jewellery, among other things) from the Russian Federation were seized at a post office in Bosnia and Herzegovina.