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Trafficking in ancient currencies: more than 15,000 coins looted by a Franco-Turkish network

It is an investigation worthy of a detective novel, begun in 2021, which has just reached its conclusion.

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Trafficking in ancient currencies: more than 15,000 coins looted by a Franco-Turkish network

It is an investigation worthy of a detective novel, begun in 2021, which has just reached its conclusion. According to information from France Inter confirmed by AFP, Monday February 26, agents of the National Directorate of Customs Intelligence and Investigations (DNRED) finished dismantling currency trafficking consisting of more than 15,000 coins looted in Turkey. The value of the approximately 8,500 antiquities found and the 7,000 pieces already lost in nature would peak at 1.5 million euros, according to estimates by experts from the National Library of France (BnF).

It all started, in 2021, with the interception of a package containing several antique objects of suspicious origin. Customs officials are questioning a Bulgarian man who tried to mail them to England to have them cleaned. The DNRED then noted that two companies which claim to specialize in numismatics, one English and one French, have the same name. On an internet page, these companies mainly offer currencies originating from Anatolia, in Turkey. This was all it took to alert the specialists: “usually, the fund offered is varied, in order to reach as many clients as possible,” specifies France Inter. From investigations to discoveries, the French authorities then became aware that illegal trafficking of parts was taking place between France and Turkey. For their part, Turkish customs arrested several people suspected of having trafficked cultural property. Research brings to light the name of a man residing in France.

The DNRED went to the home of this father in 2022. Customs agents then discovered 8,500 items distributed randomly in a modest apartment. “We realize that they are almost everywhere, we find them in a television cabinet, in freezer bags, in boxes in the four corners of the apartment,” said one of the investigators, a specialist in the trafficking of cultural goods, at France Inter. Among the packaging, a trash bag catches their attention. Inside are two small metal plates that Louvre experts will identify as an incantation plate and an exemption plate. The heritage value of these objects is inestimable, experts say.

This looting was made possible by networks “worthy of drug traffickers,” notes a member of customs. An investigator specializing in the trafficking of cultural goods explains to France Inter: “Generally, pieces are looted from villages by people who are in fairly precarious situations. The mafiosi will provide them with metal detectors so that they can search for treasures in their locality according to the stories they have heard and which have passed down through the generations. Once these materials have been recovered, collectors will go from village to village to buy these objects at a low price, and certainly not at the European market price.” The parts are also sent to the European Union “by transit countries – Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland – which eventually arrive in France,” a manager of the DNRED investigation service told AFP.

The man responsible for selling the items must soon be summoned to court. He faces up to ten years in prison and a fine of 15 million euros, the looting having been committed by an organized gang. As for the objects themselves, French diplomacy will return them to Turkey. Damage to excavation sites, on the other hand, is irreversible.

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