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Police rumble gang stealing antique books across Europe

Visitors gather at a book shop during an annual book festival, celebrating Alexander Pushkin's birthday in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, June 4, 2023.
Visitors gather at a book shop during an annual book festival, celebrating Alexander Pushkin's birthday in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, June 4, 2023. Copyright Associated Press
Copyright Associated Press
By Euronews
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Works by Russian literary greats such as Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol were substituted with valueless counterfeits from European libraries.

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European authorities say they have rounded up a criminal gang who stole rare antique books worth €2.5 million from libraries across Europe.

In a press release, Europol announced they had arrested nine Georgian nationals in Georgia and Lithuania who are thought to have collaborated in the plot, in which at least 170 books were stolen.

"In 2022 and 2023, the criminal group managed to steal rare books from national and historical libraries in Czechia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Switzerland," Europol explained in its account of the arrests. 

"The thieves would target rare books by mainly Russian writers, such as first editions authored by the likes of Alexander Pushkin or Nikolai Gogol."

The EU Agency for Law Enforcement detailed that the thieves would visit libraries and request to check the antique books in person, feigning a specific reason, such as academic interest. 

They would then meticulously measure the books and take photographs before handing them back.

"Several days, weeks, or months later, the perpetrators would return and ask to access the same books, this time returning counterfeit versions. Experts have established that the copies were of outstanding quality," Europol continued. 

"In other cases, the perpetrators relied on a more crude approach and simply broke into libraries. In preparation of the thefts, they would typically visit libraries and research the books they later stole."

The swoop on the gang involved more than 100 officers across 27 different locations, and the investigation was backed by authorities from 10 different countries.

More than 150 books were recovered - their provenance is now being established.

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