Saturday, December 11, 2010

Operation Carolina Mosaico: Expoliadores arrested in Spain

In November it was reported that four individuals had been arrested in Spain following looting from a Roman cemetery ("España: descubiertos restos robados de una necrópolis de Córdoba", AFP, November 16, 2010; "Spanish police recover relics from Roman necropolis", AFP November 16, 2010). One of those arrested was a Belgian-Lebanese male who was reported to be linked to the consignment of marble column-base, valued at 150,000 euros, to Christie's in London. The finds recovered included a Roman mosaic, prehistoric axes and 800 Arab and Roman coins. It was said that "police were still searching for the mastermind behind the network".

There seems to have been a development ("Cae una red que expoliaba y subastaba en Internet piezas arqueológicas", EFE Newswire December 10, 2010). It is reported that there have been some 85 arrests in several provinces: Madrid, Sevilla, Córdoba, Jaén, Málaga, Granada and Valencia. This is part of an operation known as "Carolina Mosaico". There have been some 115 searches that have yielded "6.000 monedas romanas y medievales, puntas de flecha, fíbulas de origen romano, pendientes y hebillas visigodas, hachas de piedra pulimentada, estelas con inscripciones en árabe, columnas y exvotos". The network had been supplying objects to buyers in Germany, the United Kingdom and the USA.

The police statement said that some members of the network had been using metal-detectors ("utilizando detectores de metales") and were paid a daily rate (plus expenses) to search specific sites for archaeological material ("Los expoliadores actuaban en comisión de servicio. Se les asignaban un yacimiento y se les pagaban dietas y gastos de transporte").

The group also seems to have been dealing in precious metals. The seizure also included 120 kg in gold and 900,000 euros ("Detienen en Málaga a dos joyeros y a un numismático en una operación contra el expolio", Sur December 11, 2010). Those arrested include a numismatist ("numismático"), as well as German nationals. A number of weapons, including a machine-gun, have been seized.

There is also apparently evidence of a sophisticated workshop producing objects that were passed off as genuine. Members of the network are reported to have made "auto-bids" for objects offered for sale through the internet.

This story should alert any coin dealers who have been buying directly or indirectly from Spain.

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