Ancient artefacts smuggled into the UK have been formally returned to the people of Bulgaria following the conclusion of a Kent Police investigation.

Coins, pendants, brooches, statues and spearheads worth an estimated £76,110 were among the antiquities found hidden inside a lorry full of trousers at the Port of Dover on Tuesday 27 October 2020.

Bulgarian-desktop
Some of the ancient artefacts on display at the handover ceremony.

The driver was working as a courier on behalf of a Bulgarian organised crime group and was jailed for two years in March 2021 after pleading guilty to transferring criminal property. The investigation into his criminal activities was led by Kent Police detectives with assistance from the Metropolitan Police Service’s specialist Art and Antiques Unit and the Bulgarian authorities.

Ceremony

Detective Inspector Shaun Creed of Kent Police’s Border Policing team was among those who attended a ceremony at the Bulgarian Embassy in London where the artefacts were formally handed back to the nation where they were stolen from along with other items seized during separate investigations carried out by the Metropolitan Police Service.

DI Creed said: ‘The illegal excavation of antiques is an ongoing issue in Bulgaria, depriving its citizens of an important part of their cultural heritage. The criminals responsible think nothing of the harm it causes when they smuggle their ill-gotten gains into countries like the UK, often using the proceeds from their smuggling to fund other international criminal activities.

‘It was an honour and a privilege for Kent Police to be invited to attend the Bulgarian Embassy for this special occasion, and to formally return the items that should never have found their way into the UK in the first place.

‘We will continue to work with our partners both at home and abroad to tackle this type of criminality and hope this result sends a clear message to anyone else planning to smuggle items into the country.’

DI Creed

Proud

Detective Superintendent John Roch, Head of Economic Crime for the Metropolitan Police, said: ‘The Metropolitan Police recognises the harm caused by the trade in illicit archaeological artefacts, and we are proud of our work with Kent Police and Bulgarian law enforcement on this issue.

‘Intercepting these artefacts prevents organised criminals benefiting from their unlawful conduct and stops the pieces being acquired by innocent members of the public. The Art and Antiques Unit will continue to work closely with enforcement agencies across the UK and internationally in order to protect cultural heritage from thieves, smugglers and fraudsters.’

D Supt John Roch

Colossal damage

Ambassador Marin Raykov of the Bulgarian Embassy said: ‘We look at our historical and cultural heritage as a major factor for preserving our national identity. On one hand it is our legacy and our national asset, on the other our contribution to European and world history and culture.

‘Illegal looting and inflicts colossal damage, both by robbing future generations of an essential part of their cultural heritage and with altering history. For this reason it is imperative to deal with such international criminal networks through enhanced international cooperation.

‘The handover event was the best example and proof of the successful cooperation that has been built between the British and Bulgarian law enforcement agencies, based on trust, common ideals and high professional standards. We highly praise the work done by Kent Police, the Metropolitan Police and UK Border Force, and look forward to continued and enhanced cooperation.’

Bulgarian Ambassador Marin Raykov

By Ed

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