Italy cracks down on smuggling ring

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by Björn Schöpe
translated by Leonie Schulze

July 12, 2018 – On July 4, 2018, Italian special units arrested several members of an international smuggling ring in a wide-ranging concerted raid. In Italy alone, 250 officers arrested 23 suspects. The operation was preceded by several years of investigations. Ever since the Carabinieri had found illegal excavations in the southern Sicilian municipality of Riesi in 2014, special units had pressed ahead with the so-called “Operation Demetra”. According to the Carabinieri’s press release, more than 3,000 archeological items worth more than 40 million euros have been found so far.

The alleged leader of the organization is the 76-year-old Sicilian Francesco Lucerna. The band of smugglers is said to have excavated ancient items illegally, possibly also in the famous Valle dei Templi in Agrigento. They were then transported to Northern Italy. According to “The Telegraph”, the band also made copies of several objects to have them sold as originals. The antiquities were then shipped abroad from Northern Italy.

Italy issued three international arrest warrants against suspects living in other European countries: in London the police then arrested art dealer William Thomas Veres, 64, in Barcelona 36-year-old Andrea Palma was taken into custody and in the Southern German town of Ehingen, the 61-year-old Sicilian Rocco Mondello was apprehended. According to the German newspaper “Hamburger Abendblatt”, investigators found archaeological items, forged documents, and 30,000 euros in cash in Ehingen.
Media reports also claim that police are investigating a possible connection between the Italian smuggling ring and two Munich-based auction houses. They are said to have issued forged certificates of origin for the smuggled items.

The first press release issued by the Carabinieri has not yet been followed by further information. We will continue to follow this case and make sure to report on any new and verified developments on CoinsWeekly.

You can find the official Carabinieri press release on their website.

News Sicilia offers several images of some of the suspects and smuggled items.

Among others, ArtnetNews has reported on the investigations.

The British newspapers “The Telegraph” and the “Antiques Trade Gazette” have been particularly interested in the case of William Veres.