On Tuesday, Greek police arrested five suspected antiquities smugglers on the island of Crete during an operation to dismantle a criminal ring responsible for the theft of historically valuable items.
During the operation, the police seized and recovered several items including seven coffins and vessels. The ancient items are said to have a combined value in excess of €500,000.
The operation on Tuesday was reportedly the culmination of four months of investigation and casework.
Antiquity smuggling ring intercepted on Crete
According to Greek media sources the police operation took place in the area of Krousonas in the municipality of Malevizi.
About four months of investigative work took place to identify the members of the antiquity smuggling ring and their location. The police operation reportedly got the go ahead on Monday when the location of the stolen antiquities was determined.
The police searched houses in the Krousonas area and arrested at least five individuals believed to have taken part in the theft of the valuable historical items.
The wider issue
The theft of antiquities is a lucrative illicit trade. Thankfully, various national law enforcement agencies and international organizations conduct ongoing investigations to halt the smuggling of precious antiquities and recover items of historical, cultural, or artistic importance.
Due to the gravitas and value associated with any historical items from the ancient Greek world, antiquities belonging to the ancient Greek culture are a common target.
Stefan Guericke, was one such smuggler who specialized in ancient Greek antiquities. In fact, the audacious criminal of German descent spoke Greek fluently and completed a doctoral dissertation on prehistory and fine arts.
From the early 1960s until the late 1990s, he put this knowledge to use as an antiquities smuggler operating in Greece, which he saw as an inexhaustible source of ancient wealth. He was arrested four times but disappeared after inexplicably being released.
Repatriation of stolen artifacts
Although some infamous smugglers like Stefan Guericke have disappeared together with an unnumbered hoard of stolen artifacts, many items are discovered and eventually returned to Greece.
For example, in February this year, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports announced that 15 Greek antiquities would be repatriated from Switzerland after they were discovered to have been illegally trafficked by a well known antiquities dealer.
At the time, Lina Mendoni, the Greek Minister of Culture and Sports, stressed the importance of tackling antiquities smuggling operations and ensuring that artifacts are returned to their place of origin.
“The Ministry of Culture and Sports, especially in recent years, attaches great importance to the repatriation of every cultural asset which is inextricably linked to our cultural heritage,” she said. “The return of cultural goods to their place of birth, beyond a universal issue, is a moral obligation between peoples in the context of the respect and protection of the common global cultural heritage.”