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Italian Police Nab Suspects in an Antiquities Smuggling Ring After a Years-Long Investigation Code-Named ‘Operation Demetra’

Eileen Kinsella

Abstract

An article in artnet News published in July 5, 2018, details the results of a four-year investigation by Italian carabinieri known as “Operation Demetra,” during which dozens of Greek figurative terracottas and scores of Greek vases, among other artifacts, were recovered from sites in western Sicily.

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Suspects in at least four countries are implicated in the looting of Sicily's most famous site

1After a four-year investigation known as “Operation Demetra,” Italian authorities have carried out a wide-ranging crackdown on an international smuggling ring associated with trafficking thousands of Sicilian artifacts to collectors and auction houses in Europe.

2According to reports in The Telegraph and the art crime blog ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes against Art), a British art dealer and 20 Italians have been arrested, as have two other men in Spain and Germany. The arrests were made after police identified objects looted from Greek and Roman archaeological sites in Sicily.

3The Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Caltanissetta in Italy held a morning conference on July 4 to detail the news, ARCA reported.

4Authorities allege that for the past several decades, the ring has plundered sites in the provinces of Caltanisetta and Agrigento, specifically from the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO heritage site and Sicily’s main attraction. The items were later sold at auction in Munich, though the auction houses were not identified by name in either report.

5The Carabinieri did not immediately respond to artnet News’ request for comment. The EU law enforcement agency Europol reportedly financed and facilitated meeting between the countries’ respective enforcement agencies, given that key facilitators in the smuggling ring acted from Barcelona and London, helping to coordinate the supply chain.

6Among those arrested was British dealer Thomas William Veres, 64, who was based in London. A large quantity of antiquities and coins were reportedly seized in connection with his detainment. Last year, Veres was also arrested by Spanish police on charges of alleged possession of dozens of stolen artifacts.

7In November 1995, ARCA reports, Veres received a suspended sentence of a year and ten months imprisonment for his role in US Customs’s seizure of a fourth century BCE gold phiale, valued at $1.2 million. That object had been sold to art collector Michael Steinhardt.

8Also detained as part of Operation Demetra was 76-year old Francesco Lucerna, alleged to be the mastermind of the Sicilian smuggling operation. Lucerna is said to have regularly dispatched stolen archaeological objects to northern Italy through a network of couriers who then made contact with a gang overseen by Veres, the Telegraph reports.

9Spanish Guardia Civil agents arrested 36-year old Andrea Palma, an alleged accomplice, in Barcelona, while German police from Baden-Wurttemberg arrested another alleged gang member in the German town of Edingen. The latter was identified as another Italian, Rocco Mondello, aged 61.

10The gang further set up workshops where teams of counterfeiters copied some of the archaeological remains and sold replicas as originals.

11The country-spanning investigation was initiated in 2014 when police discovered an illegal archaeological dig in Riesi, which the Telegraph describes as a “sleepy Mafia-infested town in the impoverished Sicilian province of Caltanisetta.” In all, some 3,000 archaeological objects, worth an estimated €20 million ($23 million) have reportedly been recovered by authorities.

12As reported in artnet News, July 5, 2018.

13https://news.artnet.com/​art-world/​italian-police-crackdown-international-smuggling-ring-1313552

Fig. 1. Objects seized by the Carabinieri during “Operation Demetra”

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List of illustrations

Credits © ANSA.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acost/docannexe/image/1430/img-1.jpg
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References

Electronic reference

Eileen Kinsella, « Italian Police Nab Suspects in an Antiquities Smuggling Ring After a Years-Long Investigation Code-Named ‘Operation Demetra’ », Les Carnets de l’ACoSt [Online], 18 | 2018, Online since 15 October 2018, connection on 20 May 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/acost/1430 ; DOI : 10.4000/acost.1430

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About the author

Eileen Kinsella

Senior marketing editor, artnet News

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Les Carnets de l'ACoSt est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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