Over 56,400 cultural goods seized and 67 arrests made in action involving 31 countries

11 May 2021

Despite the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 edition of Operation Pandora targeting the illicit trafficking of cultural goods has been the most successful to date with over 56,400 cultural goods seized. These goods include archaeological objects, furniture, coins, paintings, musical instruments and sculptures.

Running from 1 June to 31 October 2020, Operation Pandora V saw the involvement of Customs and other law enforcement authorities from 31 countries.

During the operational phase, tens of thousands of checks and controls were carried out in various airports, ports and border crossing points, as well as in auction houses, museums and private homes. As a result, more than 300 investigations were opened and 67 individuals arrested.

Given the global nature of this type of crime, Operational Coordination Units working 24/7 were established by Europol on one side, and by the World Customs Organization (WCO) and INTERPOL on the other, to support the exchange of information as well as to disseminate alerts, warnings and perform cross-checks in different international and national databases.

The Operation was led by the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil), with international coordination supported by Europol, INTERPOL and the WCO. Operation PANDORA V was carried out under the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).

Operational highlights

  • 27,300 archaeological artefacts of inestimable value and exceptional quality were seized through a single investigation carried out by French Customs (Douane). This investigation is one of the largest to date and was launched following information received from the Belgian authorities in 2019. A suspect was arrested, who now risks a potential prison sentence and/or a fine amounting to hundreds of thousands of euros.
  • The Spanish authorities seized more than 7,700 cultural goods including archaeological artefacts, coins, sculptures and statues, weapons, paintings and archives of sound, film and photography with a value in excess of nine million euros.
  • During the Operation, the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) also completed a complex investigation initiated during Operation Pandora III. As a result, one individual was arrested and 94 objects stolen from various places of worship were recovered. A total of 165,000 euros in cash was seized at the individual’s home. The arrestee is suspected of trying to sell these stolen goods online, including a 16th century silver chalice and an illuminated manuscript of the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana.
  • During searches on the internet, the Swedish Police (Polisen) identified a folk art item stolen in Sweden in 2019. At that same online auction, investigators discovered a pair of 17th century candlesticks stolen from a Swedish church 8 years ago.
  • The Italian Carabinieri Corps (Arma dei Carabinieri) reported a seizure of over 2,700 cultural goods including ceramics, archaeological goods, art and books valued at 1,155,000 euros.
  • The Hellenic Police (Ελληνική Αστυνομία) carried out 34 arrests and recovered a total of 6 757 antiquities, including ceramic and marble objects, as well as 6 452 coins, 5 533 of which were recovered in one single investigation. In one case, two Greek nationals were arrested for trying to sell 6 marble and clay antiquities for €150 000.
  • A total of 50 metal detectors were seized, including six directly from archaeological sites, clearly demonstrating that such sites are under threat.
  • Several hundreds of World War II grenades and other explosive devices were seized by the Police Force of the Slovak Republic (Policajný zbor Slovenskej republiky). This is a worrisome development, as some of these old explosive devices are still functional and their handling could lead to many casualties.

Results of cyber patrol week

As part of Operation Pandora V, the Dutch National Police (Politie) organized a five-day cyber patrol week focusing on online markets. Law enforcement authorities from 15 countries, with the support of Europol, INTERPOL and the WCO, identified suspicious sales online and this resulted in 15 new investigations being opened.

International coordination

Europol, as co-leader of this action, played a key role in implementing the entire operation by facilitating information exchange, and providing analytical and operational support. The WCO also facilitated intelligence exchange between different agencies through a special closed user group set up on its CENcomm secure communication platform.

INTERPOL connected Balkan and European participating countries, facilitating the exchange of information through its secure communications system. A dedicated expert supported the entire operation by double checking searches against INTERPOL's Stolen Works of Art database to locate and identify stolen and missing items.


Participating countries: Albania, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and United Kingdom.