Macedonia: 19 Arrested for Artifact Smuggling

Published: 13 May 2013


Macedonian police dismantled an organized crime ring responsible for the theft and smuggling of multiple religious and historical artifacts, Eurasia Review reported on May 10. Nineteen individuals, including a deputy director of the Office for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and a police officer, were arrested in the operation.

Other officials, including directors of museums in the town of Demir Kapija and the capital Skopje were also arrested, Eurasia Review reported. Pasko Kuzman, Director of the Office for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, told the Southeast Times in Skopje that he suspected the scheme went beyond Macedonia itself. “I am convinced that it is an organized group that is associated with other groups and individuals abroad,” he said.

Officials used knowledge and influence available to them through their positions to expedite the smuggling of the artifacts. Many of the items were stolen from churches in the area, and others were taken directly from archaeological sites. Authorities found more than 150 artifacts including coins, bronze, ceramics and icons during the operation, the Times reported.

There is an established European market for smuggled archaeological treasures; in 2013 alone, close to 40 Macedonian churches have been robbed. A former police inspector told the SETimes that despite the continued threat posed by such robberies, penalties are usually light. The longest sentence received for a similar case in Macedonia was seven years, he said.

Churches provide easy targets because they are often ill-equipped to protect their treasures. Conservationists have pushed for the government to step in and take control over artifacts to ensure their safety, but the Macedonian Orthodox Church has largely opposed such plans.