Operation Pandora: over 56,400 cultural items confiscated and 67 arrests

Despite the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Operation Pandora, which combats the illegal trafficking of cultural items, enjoyed its most successful year to date in 2020, with over 56,400 cultural items confiscated. These objects included archaeological remains, furniture, coins, paintings, musical instruments and sculptures.

Pandora V took place between 1 June and 31 October 2020, with the participation of the Customs and police authorities of 31 different countries.

During the operational phase the authorities conducted tens of thousands of checks not only at various airports, ports and border crossings, but also in auction houses, museums and private houses. As a result, over 300 investigations were opened and 67 individuals were arrested.

Given the global nature of these crimes, operational coordination units working on a 24/7 basis were created by Europol, on the one hand, and by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and INTERPOL, on the other, so as to promote the exchanging of information and to transmit alerts and warnings and carry out investigations in various national and international databases.

This operation was directed by the Spanish Civil Guard with internationally coordinated support from Europol, INTERPOL and the WCO. Pandora V was carried out within the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).

Noteworthy operational data relating to the Pandora V operation

• A total of 27,300 archaeological remains were seized as a result of a single operation undertaken by the French Customs authorities. The suspect arrested now faces a prison sentence and a fine of several hundred thousand euros.

• During investigations on the Internet, Swedish police identified a popular work of art stolen in Sweden in 2019. During the same online auction, the police discovered a pair of 18th-century candelabra stolen from a Swedish church 8 years ago.

• The Italian Carabinieri reported over 2,700 cultural items confiscated, including ceramics, archaeological items, works of art and books for a value of 1,115,000 euros.

• The Greek police carried out 34 arrests and recovered a total of 6,757 antiques, including ceramic and marble artefacts, together with 6,452 coins, of which 5,333 were recovered in one single investigation. In one case, two Greek citizens were arrested for trying to sell 6 antiques made of marble and earthenware for 150,000 euros.

A total of 50 metal detectors were seized, of which 6 were seized directly from archaeological sites.

Europol, as the joint coordinator of this investigation, played a key role in carrying out the entire operation, facilitating the exchange of information and providing analytical and operational support. The WCO also assisted in the exchanging of intelligence between different agencies through a special user group created on its CENComm communications platform.

INTERPOL provided the connection between the participating countries in Western Europe and the Balkans, facilitating the exchanging of information through its system of secure communications.  An expert analyst provided support for the entire operation by checking the searches on the INTERPOL database of stolen works of art in order to locate and identify the stolen articles.


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