Spain leads the way in crackdown on international art theft

Spain leads the way in crackdown on international art theft

Success for Guardia Civil and Europol. Photo credit: Tobias Arhelger /

A major international investigation into the illegal art trade across 14 European countries has recovered over 11,00 artefacts and has so far resulted in 60 arrests.

Operation Pandora VII was led by Spain’s Guardia Civil, along with the support of Europol and INTERPOL, in a report published today, Thursday, May 4, by Europol.

The Pandora operation was conducted between September 13 – 24, 2022, with the aim of targeting criminals who profit from the theft and distribution of items of cultural heritage.

Thousands of checks were carried out at numerous airports, ports and border crossing points, as well as in auction houses, museums and private houses.

Over 8,495 online investigations were also conducted last year in May and October, which successfully retrieved 4,017 stolen goods.

Currently, around 130 investigations are still ongoing, with an international team of investigators expecting the number of arrests and seizures to rise.

Some notable results included an operation conducted by the Guardia Civil in Sevilla, Spain, where a Roman marble bust of a woman, believed to represent Salonia Matidia the niece of the emperor Traian, was recovered.

In Italy, the Italian Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage seized 77 ancient books from an online marketplace. The books had been stolen from the archives of a monastery.

Portuguese authorities recovered 48 religious sculptures and other religious artefacts, which were believed to have been linked to a series of 15 robberies carried out in churches across northern Portugal between 1992 and 2003.

In Greece, 41 religious and liturgical objects (icons, altarpieces mouldings, etc.) were also confiscated by the Hellenic Police following a house search.

The whole operation would not have been possible without Europol, who facilitated the exchange of information and provided analytical and operational support.

INTERPOL, also provided secure communication through its I-24/7 system and supported the entire operation with a dedicated expert to double-check searches against INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art Database.

Operation Pandora, which was first launched in 2016, is an annual law enforcement operation. The following countries took part in Pandora VII: Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals. When he's not writing for EWN he enjoys gigging in a acoustic duo, looking after their four dogs, four chickens, two cats, and cycling up mountains very slowly.