The Carabinieri struck in late November 2019: two arrests, 21 persons under house arrest, more than 80 house searches and seized objects with a market value which the Italian investigators estimated at several million euros. Operation “Achei” was directed against an organization of depredators and antique smugglers in Calabria in southern Italy with excellent connections to other European countries.
Without a qualm, but well organized
The Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, or TPC) officially conducted Operation “Achei” from 2017 to 2018. But only now did the investigators feel that they had sufficient evidence to intervene. Previously, they had made use of telephone surveillance, tailing and even video recordings using drones. This allowed for the effective long-term monitoring of the crime scenes: the Sanctuary of Apollo in Cirò Marina, Castiglione di Paludi and other archaeological sites in the Crotone area.
Videos document the brutality with which the perpetrators proceeded: They dug for potential trading goods using heavy construction machinery. What remained were deep craters, ditches and holes. All of this was not the work of a handful of petty criminals, but the doing of a complex organization operating in and around the provincial capital of Crotone.
At its head were, “without a shadow of doubt”, as the official Carabinieri press release points out, two men with an interest in archaeology who knew the places worth digging in: 58-year-old Giorgio Salvatore P. and his alleged accomplice Alessandro G. (30). Both were immediately arrested.
They led an efficient organization in which everyone knew what they had to do, from excavating sites to searching with metal detectors to redistributing the goods. Regular communication took place using code words such as “asparagus” or “chainsaw” for the metal detectors.
Sales market Europe: from London to Munich
The goods were sold not only in Italy, but also abroad. Searches took place in London, Paris, Munich and Serbia. On November 18, 2019, nearly 20 investigators and art investigators from the Bavarian State Office of Criminal Investigations (BSOCI) searched the residential and business premises of a 31-year-old Italian woman and her 37-year-old brother in downtown Munich and in Bogenhausen. According to BSOCI, numerous cultural goods have been confiscated. The investigations are ongoing.
The names of the suspected members of this criminal organization in Calabria and further details can be read in a local newspaper.
In the previous year, the Carabinieri had struck in the Sicilian town of Riesi and dismantled a smuggling ring, which is also said to having had connections abroad, including to auction houses in Munich. CoinsWeekly covered it in detail.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung also reported extensively on the topic and the connection to Munich.