Operation Pandora: 3,561 artefacts seized and 75 people arrested

23 January 2017

The WCO, along with Europol, INTERPOL and UNESCO has supported a joint pan-European operation of law enforcement authorities from 18 countries against theft and illicit trafficking of cultural goods that resulted in the seizure of 3,561 works of art and artefacts.

Led by Cyprus and Spain, Operation Pandora took place in October and November 2016 with a common action phase from 17 to 23 November 2016.

The Operation focused on cultural spoliation (the act of taking goods by force, particularly in times of war), illicit trafficking of cultural goods (with a special focus on conflict countries), cultural theft and criminal networks (to improve the understanding about criminal groups who operate in this domain and to identify possible links with other criminal areas).

To strengthen cooperation during the action week, several police officers were deployed abroad in order to cooperate during inspections and searches. Most of the actions were carried out in coordination with other authorities such as Customs, Ministries of Culture, religious institutions, etc.

A total of 48,588 persons, 29,340 vehicles and 50 ships were checked and those controls led to the arrest of 75 people and the opening of 92 new investigations. In total, 3,561 works of art and cultural goods were seized and almost half of them were artefacts, several of which are of great cultural importance in the archaeological world.

Spanish Guardia Civil seized more than 500 archeological objects in Murcia:  19 were stolen from a Museum of Archeology in Murcia in 2014.

These actions also included check of suspicious Internet announcements where over 400 coins from different origin and periods were seized because of their illegal origin.

Greek police seized a part of a marble Ottoman tombstone and a post-Byzantine painting of the 18th century, which depicts Saint George and two other Saints, along with two Byzantine artifacts.

The following countries participated in the Operation Pandora: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Cyprus, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland and United Kingdom.

The WCO supported the countries involved by alerting all concerned Customs administrations of the ongoing action and asking for full cooperation and assistance to police.

Europol supported involved experts by providing operational and analytical support during the action.

INTERPOL assisted the investigators in the field by cross checking hundreds of objects against 50,000 records in the INTERPOL Stolen Works of Art database and also by providing a swift response when identifying illicit objects.

UNESCO supported with training materials and advice to the participating countries.


Related information:

Official press releases: Spanish Ministry of Interior (in Spanish), Europol