More than 19,000 archaeological artefacts have been recovered during an international crackdown on art trafficking carried out across 103 countries, Europol has announced.
Police have arrested 101 suspects and launched 300 investigations as part of their coordinated crackdown which focused on archaeological goods and artwork looted from war-stricken countries or stolen from museums and archaeological sites.
The operations were carried out in collaboration between Europol, Interpol, the World Customs Organisations and several national police services.
Spanish and Colombian police worked together to recover some "very rare pre-Columbian objects illegally acquired through looting in Colombia" including a unique Tumaco gold mask and several gold figurines and items of ancient jewellery.
The arrest of three traffickers in Spain led to house searches in Colombia which resulted in "the largest ever seizure in the county's history" with 242 pre-Columbian objects collected.
The Argentinian Federal Police seized 2,500 ancient coins during an investigation of a single case of online sale, while the Latvian State Police seized a further 1,375 coins.
Another highlight was the seizure of 971 cultural objects at Kabul Airport by Afghan Customs "just as the objects were about to depart for Istanbul, Turkey".
Ceramics, historical weapons, paintings and fossils were also recovered while facilitating objects including metal detectors were seized.
Catherine de Bolle, Europol's Executive Director stressed in a statement that "organised crime has many faces".
"The trafficking of cultural goods is one of them: it is not a glamourous business run by flamboyant gentlemen forgers, but by international criminal networks. You cannot look at it separately from combatting trafficking in drugs and weapons: we know that the same groups are engaged because it generates big money," she added.
Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock emphasised that "the number of arrests and objects show the scale and global reach of the illicit trade in cultural artefacts, where every country with a rich heritage is a potential target."
"If you then take the significant amount of money involved and the secrecy of the transactions, this also presents opportunities for money laundering and fraud s well as financing organised crime networks," he said.