Archaeological artefact smuggling ring smashed after London raids

18 November 2019, 12:05 | Updated: 18 November 2019, 15:00

Italian police have broken up a smuggling ring that was illegally transporting archaeological artefacts around the world.

Police carried out early morning raids on Monday morning in London, as well as cities in Germany, France and Serbia, according to the Carabinieri paramilitary art crime squad. The Carabinieri is Italy's police force.

23 arrest warrants have been issued in connection to the smuggling ring, although officials have declined to say how many are in custody.

Four of those linked to the ring live abroad.

Some 123 suspects linked to the smuggling ring have so far been investigated by the Carabinieri.

Police had previously carried out raids and recovered thousands of items as part of the operation.

Italian news agency ANSA reports that the artefacts that had been trafficked out of the country are of "huge value" and adds that the items were mostly from secret archaeological digs in Calabria - known as the "toe" of Italy.

Police say that in the course of the investigation, which began in 2017, officers have retrieved a number of items worth several million euros.

In a statement, culture minister Dario Franceschini said the success of the operation was down to "sophisticated investigative techniques and the collaboration of Europol and foreign police forces".

Mr Franceschini added that Italy's security forces "successfully concluded a vast operation to counter illegal trafficking of archaeological findings from Calabria to northern Italy and abroad, recovering thousands of items and seizing material used for the illegal digs".

He called the team that led the investigation "the envy of the world".

Under Italian law, antiquities that are found on Italy's territory belong to the state - making their removal from the country illegal.

Police are expected to release more details about the case in the coming days.