Helena Lyng Blak
2 weeks ago

9 Arrested in €2.5 Million Antique Book Heist

European police crack down on a sophisticated ring of book thieves, attempting to recover centuries-old stolen treasures.
kvkirillov / DepositPhotos
kvkirillov / DepositPhotos

On Thursday, April 25, 2024, Europol announced that European police had arrested a total of nine Georgian nationals suspected of having stolen a minimum of  170 antique, rare, and valuable books from libraries across Europe. 

More than 100 law enforcement officials were deployed to 27 different locations in Georgia and Latvia on ‘action day’, April 24, arresting four suspects, and trying to recover as many of the stolen books as possible. 

At the end of the day, officers found at least 150 books, many of which were hopefully some of the stolen titles.

In the days leading up to the multinational mobilization an additional three suspects had been arrested in Estonia, France, and Lithuania, and two were under ‘judicial supervision’ in France. All nine suspects are of Georgian nationality. 

Europol estimates that the damages amount to roughly €2.5 million as well as “an immeasurable patrimonial loss to society.”

The criminal group’s modus operandi was described by Europol as “straightforward yet sophisticated.”

The perpetrators would gain access to the books by feigning specific interest on one day, securing personal time with the books, during which the alleged thieves would measure and photograph the works before returning them to the library. 

They would then create counterfeit versions of the targeted books, and return days, weeks, or even months later, replacing the originals with their fake counterparts.

Ultimately, the group managed to steal books from national, historical, and university libraries in Czechia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Switzerland.

The thieving group seemingly had an affinity for Russian literature. Among the stolen works were 17 rare Russian-language books stolen from Vilnius University, according to The Guardian, and four works by Russian Romantic Alexander Pushkin. 

In the end, the criminals allegedly found their prospective buyers in Russia, too. Europol explains that some of the stolen artifacts were sold through auction houses in St. Petersburg and Moscow, making them “effectively … irrecoverable.”

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