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Greek police recover stolen Olympia artefacts

Sting operation recovers priceless historical artefacts after a February museum robbery.
Last Modified: 25 Nov 2012 19:15

Greek police have solved a museum robbery in Olympia after a sting operation netted three suspects and recovered dozens of archaeological artefacts.

Earlier Saturday, police said they had arrested three Greek men aged between 36 and 50, and were seeking a further two suspects.

The three were arrested at a hotel in the city of Patras late on Friday, after one tried to sell a Bronze Age gold ring for 300,000 euros ($387,000) to an undercover officer posing as a potential buyer.

The original asking price had been 1.5 million euros ($1.9m), the police said.

Officers were then dispatched to a field outside a village near Olympia, where they found the remaining artefacts buried inside a sack.

"The discovery and arrest of the perpetrators of the robbery and the recovery of the stolen items are a great success," Costas Tzavaras, the deputy education minister responsible for culture, said in a statement.

Museum robbery

Back in February, a pair of armed robbers made off with nearly 80 artefacts from a museum dedicated to the ancient Olympic Games.

The stolen treasures included a 3,300-year-old gold ring, a bronze statuette of a victorious athlete, a 2,400-year-old oil jar, clay lamps, bronze tripods and miniature chariot wheels, as well as dozens of idols of charioteers, horses and bulls.

"All the items were recovered," the ministry's general secretary, Lina Mendoni, told reporters in Athens. "Next week they will regain their place at the museum," she added.

In February, police had described the robbers as amateurs who had turned up at the wrong museum.

A female guard who confronted them said they had been looking for a pair of golden wreaths, which were not kept in that particular collection.

Greece, rich in archaeological heritage, has been targeted by antiquity smugglers for decades.

But the financial crisis rocking the country has brought hundreds of staff layoffs among archaeologists and guards, leaving museums vulnerable to theft.

The Olympia robbery badly embarrassed authorities at the time. The then-culture minister offered to resign but was allowed to keep his post.

It came a month after thieves broke into the Athens National Gallery and stole a painting personally gifted to Greece by Spanish-born master Pablo Picasso, in addition to two other artworks.

No arrests have yet been made in that case.

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