Italian police have broken up a ring of looters who raided tombs for ancient artifacts and exported them illegally to countries including the United States, officials said Friday.
During more than a year of investigations, authorities recovered nearly 1,700 statues, vases and other artifacts dating from pre-Roman times to the heyday of the empire. Police flagged 19 people for possible investigation by prosecutors.
The artifacts were mainly dug out from tombs in the areas around Naples and Venice and included a bronze bust of the emperor Augustus, customs police in Rome said .
Part of the loot had been smuggled to the United States to be sold to collectors, they said.
The Italians said they worked with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New Haven, Connecticut, to recover 47 ceramic and bronze statutes that had been looted from a tomb in southern Italy dating between the 6th and 5th centuries B.C.
Over the past decades, thousands of artifacts have been secretly dug out and smuggled out of Italy to be sold to museums and collectors worldwide.
In recent years the country launched an international search for its lost treasures, cracking down on the illegal antiquities market and seeking deals with museums for the return of looted artifacts.