23 arrested for antiquities smuggling

123 investigated by Crotone magistrates, Carabinieri police

(ANSA) - Crotone, November 18 - Italian art police investigating antiquities smuggling arrested on Monday 23 people and searched a number of locations in Italy and abroad.
    Investigators coordinated by prosecutors in the Calabrian city of Crotone believe the suspects were members of an alleged criminal holding that trafficked ancient items of huge value.
    The artifacts came from illegal archaeological digs in Calabria and were illegally exported outside Italy, investigative sources said.
    Overall, 123 people have been investigated by the Carabinieri Unit for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. Four of the suspects involved in the probe live abroad, Carabinieri cops said.
    In the course of the investigation, which kicked off in 2017, police retrieved several archaeological items worth a few million euros, investigative sources said.
    Culture Minister Dario Franceschini on Monday said in a statement: "Thanks to sophisticated investigative techniques and the collaboration of Europol and foreign police forces" in France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Serbia, as well as in Italy, Carabinieri cops "successfully concluded a vast operation to counter illegal trafficking of archaeological finds from Calabria to northern Italy and abroad, recovering thousands of items and seizing material used for the illegal digs".
    The minister then praised the Carabinieri Unit for the Protection of Cultural Heritage "which has been operating since 1969 to defend Italy's cultural heritage".
    Italy's art cops are "the envy of the world," he said.
    The finds were from clandestine excavations at the "Apollo Aleo" archaeological site in Cirò Marina near Crotone and the ''Castiglione" one in Paludi near Cosenza, as well as several other private and public areas of the two provinces. Two of those arrested are in jail: Giorgio Salvatore Pucci, 59 and from Cirò Marina, and Alessandro Giovinazzi, 40 and from Scandale.
    The rest have been given house arrest. Some 80 search warrants have been issued for 80 people placed under investigation and over 350 Carabinieri were involved in the operation. At the same time and at the European level, in coordination with Europol and Eurojust, searches have been carried out in the homes of four of those under investigation in Great Britain, France, Germany, and Serbia. The members of a criminal organization managing all the phases of the trafficking were identified, in part through the use of drones to film the illegal digs.