ISTANBUL, Turkey: Turkish security forces conducted their largest-ever raids on gangs stealing antiquities, issuing arrest warrants for 143 people suspected of dealing in stolen antiquities from illegal excavations throughout the country.
The raids were conducted in 38 provinces.
The operation was the culmination of a year-long investigation into a well-organized antiquities theft ring by the police anti-smuggling and organized crime unit in Konya province.
The criminal band included people who illegally dug at sites throughout Turkey and then delivered the relics to “collectors”, who sent them on to ringleaders responsible for marketing the artifacts to foreign auction houses. A fourth group was in charge of smuggling the objects abroad, Turkish officials said.
Turkish authorities were first alerted to the thefts when a truck driver, who later cooperated with the investigation, was caught trying to send 1,736 artifacts from the Turkish province of Anatolia to an auction house in Britain via cargo through Austria.
Investigations revealed that the ring leader was being wired large sums of money from six auction houses in Europe and the U.S., as well as from other parties, and then distributing the money to other gang members.