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(Athens, GRC) - Greek police Sunday said they had arrested 44 people and recovered thousands of ancient coins after busting a smuggling ring.
"Over 8,000 coins of all forms, mainly bronze, and dating from the 6th century BC to the Byzantine period were found," a press statement said.
They also recovered many priceless antiquities including wooden icons dating from the Byzantine period, three golden objects and a plethora of jewelry, as well as 19 metal detectors.
More than 200 police officers raided 55 buildings in 13 prefectures, mainly in northern Greece in an operation that began on Saturday, the statement said.
A 66 year-old man believed to be the mastermind was also arrested.
"The 66-year-old received the artifacts and after evaluating them, put them on sale in foreign countries through a network he had developed," police said.
The man, a retired customs employee, frequently visited Bulgaria, Germany, Switzerland and Britain.
Greece, rich in archaeological heritage, has been targeted by illegal antiques traders for decades.
Over 70 items were stolen last month from the Ancient Olympic Games museum in Olympia when two masked men knocked out the alarm and then overpowered the building's sole female guard when she arrived for her shift.
A month earlier, thieves had broken into the Athens National Gallery and stole a painting personally gifted by Spanish-born master Pablo Picasso to Greece, in addition to two other artworks.
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“Treasure – If it’s out there, we’re going to find it!” (Tommy Vawter)
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