THE HAGUE (AFP).- Police from 18 countries recovered over 3,500 stolen works of art and ancient artefacts of "great cultural importance" in a joint operation last year, the European police agency said Monday.
The haul included a marble Ottoman tombstone, a post-Byzantine icon depicting Saint George and hundreds of coins, Europol said.
Dubbed Operation Pandora, the crackdown took place last October and November, leading to the recovery of 3,561 pieces and 75 arrests.
Officials told AFP that it was hard to put a total value on the haul, as experts had yet to appraise it.
"Several of the retrieved artefacts are of great cultural importance in the archaeological world," the agency, based in The Hague, said in a statement.
Around 500 objects were uncovered in Murcia, southeastern Spain, including 19 coins which had been stolen from the city's Archaeological Museum in 2014.
The operation was led by Spanish and Cypriot police who carried out checks on more than 48,500 people, some 50 ships and over 29,000 vehicles.
Police carried out inspections of internet sites and art galleries and at checkpoints in their hunt for illicit artefacts, and even searched scuba-diving schools for items plundered from underwater sites.
In Cyprus, 40 ancient objects were found at the post office in Larnaca, close to where the Mediterranean island's main airport is based, Cypriot police said in a statement.
"All airports, post offices and checkpoints to and from" northern Turkish-held areas were monitored and there were also "intensified police patrols at sensitive archaeological sites," the Cypriot police added.
"From a total of 44 searches conducted in homes and premises throughout Cyprus, 1,383 artefacts and 13 metal detectors were found and seized," they added.
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