Italian Police Finds €30m Antiquities from International Smuggling Ring

The Italian police have arrested an international ring of antiquities smugglers in Sicily last Wednesday. Thousands of Sicilian archaeological treasures worth €30m (US$39.7m) have been found, including ancient coins, statues and pottery. A total of 23 suspects, including a British dealer, were arrested.

Suspects and part of the loot|The Carabinieri TPC

Images of the operation|The Carabinieri TPC

The operation’s name, Demetra, is taken from the ancient Greek goddess of grains and fertility of the earth. Starting from 2014, a team of 250 Italian officers, in conjunction with the English, German and Spanish police, have been involved in the search. Last Wednesday, a London art dealer and 20 Italians have been arrested, along with one person in Spain and another in Germany.

Officers identified artefacts looted from ancient Greek and Roman sites|The Carabinieri TPC

Part of the loot|The Carabinieri TPC

Valley of the Temples

Authorities allegedly reported that the ring was active in major cities such as Sicily, London, Barcelona and Munich. They first plundered archaeological sites in Sicily and transported stolen goods to other European countries using a very simple method – hiding the antiquities in their luggage and carrying them abroad.

The gang have been plundering the provinces of Caltanisetta and Agrigento, where the ancient Greek Valley of the Temples are located. The target site was the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO heritage site and Sicily’s main attraction that has lived for over 2000 years.

Part of the loot|The Carabinieri TPC

Part of the loot|The Carabinieri TPC

Besides smuggling, the ring also produced counterfeits. They would invite professionals to their workshops and create fake artefacts according to the real ones. Whether the goods are genuine or not, the team would give them reliable provenances and sell them through legal channels.

The operation took 4 years|The Carabinieri TPC

One of the masterminds was the 64-year-old art dealer (left, image above), Thomas William Veres, who was arrested by Metropolitan Police officers. The London based man was Hungarian-born and in charge of smuggling the loot from Sicily to Munich. He mixed the ancient coins with modern ones in his wallet and successfully transferred them through immigration. The investigation is continuing with a probe of two notable auction houses in Munich.

In fact, Veres was previously involved in other ancient artefacts trafficking incidents. Last year, Veres was arrested by Spanish police on charges of possession of dozens of stolen Roman artifacts. His smuggling activities take place all over the world and some are even connected to well-known tycoons. The Value will discuss Veres’ ‘big business’ in detail in our next article.