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Archaeological crime gang uncovered in Italy, 10,000 artifacts recovered

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Archaeological crime gang uncovered in Italy, 10,000 artifacts recovered

Carabinieri military police officer examines artifacts in a shop window in Cosenza, Italy, on November 18, 2019. MILITARY POLICE / CARABINIERI via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS brochure

ROME (Reuters) – An international gang of criminals who broke into ancient sites in southern Italy and trafficked millions of stolen archaeological assets has been disbanded, police said on Monday.

Police conducted more than 80 searches in Italy, France, Britain, Germany and Serbia, arrested 23 people and recovered around 10,000 archaeological items.

The crime gang operated outside Italy's feet and carried out illegal excavations in areas where official archaeologists had yet to explore. Police said they had been following the group since May 2017, using faucets and video surveillance to see how art treasures were found and sold abroad.

"Significantly, drone images show the violence of clandestine excavations carried out by this criminal gang, with a (mechanical) excavator used to break the ground with enormous brutality," the police statement said.

Among the looted areas were sites dating from the fourth and fifth centuries BC, when the coast of southern Italy was dotted with ancient Greek colonies.

The thieves came out with terracotta vases, painted plates, brooches and jewelry. Police said the stolen goods were worth "several million euros".

Intermediaries seeking to sell looted artifacts worked in London, Munich, the French city of Dijon and Vrsac in Serbia.

Italy has a police unit dedicated to fighting looters who led the operation on the southern tip of the country.

"Calabria is particularly rich in ancient heritage and is the object of incessant and intense looting that feeds the underground art market," the unit said on Monday.

Crispian Balmer report; Edition by Gareth Jones

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