Greek police recover stolen Olympic treasures

Ancient artefacts found buried in field after police sting led to arrest of three suspects

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2012, 4:26am

Greek officials have solved an embarrassing museum robbery after a police sting operation netted three suspects and recovered dozens of ancient artefacts, including a 3,300-year-old gold ring.

Police said they had arrested three Greek men aged between 36 and 50 and were seeking another two suspects.

The three were arrested at a hotel in the city of Patras late on Friday after one of them tried to sell the Bronze Age ring for €300,000 (HK$3 million) to an undercover officer posing as a potential buyer.

The original asking price had been €1.5 million, the police said.

Officers were then dispatched to a village near Olympia where they found the remaining artefacts in a sack buried in a field.

"The discovery and arrest of the perpetrators of the robbery and the recovery of the stolen items are a great success," said Costas Tzavaras, the deputy education minister responsible for culture.

In February, a pair of armed robbers made off with nearly 80 artefacts from a museum in Olympia dedicated to the ancient Olympic Games.

The stolen treasures also included a bronze statuette of a victorious athlete, a 2,400-year-old oil jar, clay lamps, bronze tripods and miniature chariot wheels, as well as dozens of idols of charioteers, horses and bulls.

"All the items were recovered," said the ministry's general secretary, Lina Mendoni. "Next week they will regain their place at the museum."

After the raid, police described the robbers as amateurs who had turned up at the wrong museum. A female guard who confronted them said they had been looking for a pair of golden wreaths, which were not kept in that particular collection.

Greece, rich in archaeological heritage, has been targeted by antiquity smugglers for decades.

But the financial crisis rocking the country has brought hundreds of staff lay-offs among archaeologists and guards, leaving museums vulnerable to theft.

The Olympia robbery badly embarrassed authorities at the time. The then culture minister offered to resign, but was allowed to keep his post.

It came a month after thieves broke into the Athens National Gallery and stole a painting personally gifted to Greece by Spanish-born master Pablo Picasso, in addition to two other artworks.

No arrests have yet been made in that case.


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