'Operation Pandora' recovers thousands of artefacts

a Byzantine image of Saint George, in recognisable golden painting style, sits in a wooden frame Image copyright Europol
Image caption This Byzantine image of Saint George was among the artworks recovered

A Europe-wide police operation has recovered more than 3,500 stolen artworks and cultural artefacts.

The recovered items included a marble tombstone from the Ottoman empire and a Byzantine image of Saint George.

Multinational police agencies Europol and Interpol coordinated "Operation Pandora", led by Cypriot and Spanish police.

Police arrested 75 people, and investigated 48,588 individuals, Europol said.

Among the recovered items were:

  • A total of 3,561 works of art and cultural items - about half of which were archaeological objects
  • 19 items which had been stolen from an archaeological museum in Murcia, Spain - part of a haul of 500 found in the region
  • More than 400 coins from throughout history, found through "suspicious online advertisements"
Image copyright Europol
Image caption Hundreds of coins were included in the haul

In addition to the 75 people who were arrested, Europol said that 92 new investigations had been opened as a result of the operation.

Investigators said that criminal gangs involved in cultural theft were the focus, particularly those who seized cultural items by force - either on land or from sunken wrecks.

The operation took place during October and November last year.

Image copyright Europol
Image caption Spanish officers discovered about 500 artefacts in the city of Murcia

Eighteen countries, mostly from the European Union - but also Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Switzerland - were involved.

Cypriot police said they alone recovered almost 1,400 artefacts during 44 searches.

Europol co-ordinated efforts, while Interpol contributed its database of stolen artworks.

Both the World Customs Organisation and Unesco also contributed their expertise.

More on this story