Turkey nabs 78 suspects over historical artifact smuggling
According to information obtained by Anadolu Agency, the Turkish General Directorate of Security's anti-smuggling and organized crimes units and southern Adana province's chief public prosecutor's office launched Operation Anadolu across 30 provinces.
The operation revealed that historical artifacts obtained by illegal diggers and collectors in Turkey were smuggled abroad by an organized crime group using a courier.
The anti-smuggling and organized crime units began investigations nearly two years ago and deciphered the ringleader of the crime network as well as the members of the group’s domestic and international connections.
According to security sources, the historical artifacts, which were smuggled to the US and European countries, were reviewed at catalogs of the auction houses in these countries.
Following examination by experts from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, it was found that 52 historical artifacts in nine auction halls in the US and Europe were put in catalogs for sale through auctions.
As the auction houses in the US and Europe sent approximately 26 million liras ($3.01 million) worth of currency to smugglers, security sources said that some of the auction houses made sales through fake ownership documents.
The Adana-based operation was launched across 30 provinces following the identification of suspects and evidence of criminal elements.
During early hours on Tuesday, security teams carried out operations across 108 addresses and detained 78 suspects.
Suspects included collectors for whom detention warrants were issued. One of the suspects was detained in the southern Mersin province's Silifke district.
Security teams seized at least 9,276 historical artifacts found to have been excavated illegally, 13 detectors used in illegal excavations, three unlicensed pistols, three blank pistols, an unlicensed hunting rifle, 425 cartridges, as well as €50,000 ($58,625) and $70,500 in cash.
As the operation against the suspects is ongoing, security sources said the operation is known to be the first-ever countrywide operation against historical artifact smuggling.
Meanwhile, over 13,000 historical artifacts were seized in four separate raids carried out in Turkey, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Serbia as part of the operation's investigation process that lasted nearly two years.