In October 2018, construction workers at the Tempio di Apollo Aleo, an archaeological site in Italy’s coastal town of Cirò Marina, made a suspicious discovery: there was a gaping opening in the chain-link fence surrounding the dig. Inside, hastily dug holes pockmarked the grounds. As it turned out, a crime had taken place.
After authorities got in contact, they made the less-than-surprising discovery that artifacts had been looted. According to a report in the German publication Süddeutsche Zeitung, the culprits have finally been apprehended. Twenty-three people were arrested in Italy in Operation Achei, a sweeping investigation coordinated by Italian police in collaboration with the international investigation agencies Eurojust and Europol. City prosecutors have charged the thieves with participation in an artifact trafficking scheme that spanned the expanse of Europe.
Investigators in Germany, England, France, and Serbia have seized around 10,000 archaeological pieces—vases, jars, oil lamps, jewels, and coins—believed to have been illegally ferried from Italy. The arrests in Italy were executed in conjunction with a bust by the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office, which searched the homes and offices of a 31-year-old Italian and her 37-year-old brother in downtown Munich and offices in the district Bogenhausen. Antique coins were confiscated at the sites. According to the Italian investigators, two Italians are considered the masterminds of the criminal organization, which has been active since at least 2017: Giorgio Salvatore P., 59, and Alessandro G., 30.
The looting of heritage sites and illegal export of artifacts abroad has proved to be a onerous issue for authorities worldwide. According to a report by the special unit, more than 8,000 cultural goods were stolen from Italy in 2018 alone.