Couple’s smuggled booty reveals pot of gold

8th May 2008, Comments 0 comments

The 700 pre-Columbian artifacts smuggled by a couple consist of ancient treasures from Peru's Chancay, Moche and Chavin cultures.

8 May 2008

MADRID - Luis Ángel M. S., a 60-year-old former employee of Teléfonica, and his 23-year-old Colombian wife Albenis O. A., arrived last Wednesday in Madrid's Barajas airport with 65 kilograms of luggage: wrapped up inside their clothes they carried pre-Columbian vessels, figurines, ceramics and carved stones.

After landing in the capital, Luis Ángel and Albenis left their luggage in their home in Logroño and then went on to another house in Jubera.

But shortly after their return to the northern wine-producing region of La Rioja, the couple were arrested by the Heritage crime team, who had been tracking their movements for months. The judge of Logroño has asked them to appear in court every two weeks.

In a search of the couple's three-storey home in Logroño lasting 22 hours, the Heritage team found as many as 700 pieces of priceless pre-Columbian artifacts, including dozens of golden masks, exquisitely carved golden statuettes, ear-rings and other pieces of jewellery, ceramics picturing couples - in some cases two men - in sexual postures, weapons including bows, mallets, axes and anthropomorphic stones.

According to the police, the vast collection includes objects from Peru's Chancay (1200-1400 BC), Moche (1st-4th century AD) and Chavin cultures. The Heritage team also discovered two large Aztec figures.

It is impossible to put a value on the objects at this point but suffice to say that Luis Ángel M. S. was asking EUR 100,000 for a golden mask.

According to the head of the Specialised and Violent Crime department (UDEV), Ángel Galán, "their state of conservation is magnificent".

According to the head of the Heritage team, Antonio Tenorio, Luis Ángel had been selling the artifacts, stolen from archaeological sites, for five years. The former Telefónica employee would make journeys to South America to collect the objects directly from the tomb raiders who pillage historical sites.

Luis Ángel had exported a Toyota jeep to Ecuador, which he used to travel around Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, using Bogotá as his base. According to police sources, he preferred to travel by land to avoid having to pass through the stricter customs controls of airports.

Manuel González Olaechea y Franco, cultural attaché for the Peruvian embassy in Madrid, was delighted to hear that the artifacts had been found: "This has been a magnificent job on the part of the police because this means we can recover some really outstanding pieces."

According to Olaechea, there are some 100,000 archaeological sites in Peru that are impossible to keep under surveillance - a situation that the huaqueros (thieves who steal artifacts and valuable objects from pre-Columbian burial sites) are keen to exploit.

According to police sources, in the event that the couple were detained by a customs official, they would claim that the works were reproductions.

The police are now examining documentation that could prove that Luis Ángel sold artifacts in various European countries, especially in auction houses in France where some pieces were due to go under the hammer.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday the police handed over to Italian authorities a second-century Roman marble bathtub from the reign of Hadrian, stolen in October 2005 from a residence in Roma. It is an oval bath with bas-reliefs of lions and human figures, valued at EUR 300,000.

At the end of 2005, the bath in question was bought by a Barcelona-based antiques dealer for EUR 3,000 from a fellow antiques dealer.

[El Pais / Jesus Duva / Expatica]

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