Cyprus police bust $15.5 million smuggling ring

Ancient terracotta urns found in a car in Limassol Cyprus police raided a huge antiquities smuggling ring in southern city of Limassol that was set to sell dozen of antiquities worth an estimated $15.5 million. This is the biggest antiquities smuggling bust in Cyprus history.

Artifacts include urns, gold figurines and coins, some thought to be as much as 4000 years old. They were found in various homes, backyard sheds and vehicles belonging to the suspects, some in scarily casual arrangements.

The Cypriot police were alerted to the ring when one of its alleged members tried to sell some treasure to a man who ended up being an undercover Greek policeman. The Greek police then contacted the Cyprus authorities.

Ten Cypriots were arrested during the raids over the weekend, and authorities were searching for another five suspects, including a Syrian man, police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said. The suspects face charges of illegally possessing and trading in antiquities.

Police said the smugglers had planned to sell the artifacts in Cyprus, but would not identify the buyer. Authorities also said they were investigating where the artifacts had been obtained.

Katsounotos said this was Cyprus’ largest antiquities smuggling case in terms of the amount of recovered artifacts, their archaeological value and the number of arrests.

Most of the artifacts are urns primarily found around the southern coastal towns of Limassol and Paphos, Hadjicosti said. Some of the coins could date to Hellenistic and Roman times.

Miniature sarcophagus and gold figurinesSome of the most valuable artifacts are a miniature gold coffin and gold figurines. These don’t appear to be Cypriot in origin. The wee coffin looks like an Egyptian sarcophagus.

Other artifacts may have been looted from the Turkish north of Cyprus. (The spokesman wasn’t terribly forthcoming on that subject. Don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Cypriot police made a big deal out of the cooperation of the Greek police.)