On May 22nd, 2020, at the harbour of Valencia in Spain, a joint operation of the Directorate-General of Customs of Argentina, the Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Argentine Federal Police, the Customs Service of Spain, the Cultural Heritage Brigade of Spanish National Police, INTERPOL Argentina and INTERPOL España landed a great success by localising and seizing a total amount of 4000 paleontological objects coming from Argentina and ready to be sold on the market throughout Europe.
The operation started in mid-2019 on the input of an alert by the Argentine Committee to Fight Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Goods, specifically by the Bernardino Rivadavia Museum of Natural Sciences, the institution of reference for paleontological matters, regarding the possible illegal export of an important private collection of fossils, which would be carried out from the province of Río Negro.
Attentive to the matter and to prevent the smuggling of said pieces by means of a joint effort, the Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Argentine Federal Police reported the issue to INTERPOL. In turn, the Argentine Directorate-General of Customs referred to the World Customs Organization (WCO).
Detected a large shipment bound for the town of Murcia in Spain, the Argentine Customs requested the intervention and collaboration of the Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Argentine Federal Police.
Through INTERPOL channels, reaching out to the Bureau based in Madrid, the Federal Agency proceeded to request the intervention of the Cultural Heritage Brigade of the Spanish National Police.
As a result of the law enforcement agencies’ joint investigation, it was ascertained that in February 2020, taking advantage of the global crisis due to Covid-19 pandemic, a container with export-label “MOVING” and destination the Spanish town of Murcia was shipped.
The Argentine Customs was able to establish that the container in question had arrived at the port of Valencia. Therefore, with the assistance of personnel from both the Museum of Natural Sciences of Valencia and the Cultural Heritage Brigade, the Spanish Customs proceeded to open, verify, and seize the paleontological pieces belonging to Argentina’s heritage.
In September, the Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Argentine Federal Police received from INTERPOL bureau in Madrid the detailed report of the seized material, carried out by specialized personnel from the mentioned Museum. The report, which underlined the presence of a valuable collection of paleontological objects, was turned over to the Bernardino Rivadavia Museum of Natural Sciences waiting for their expertise.
The Museum then reported that all the pieces are original and of great quality, and they represent a relevant addition to the paleontological heritage of Argentina.
After a timely video conference reporting on the joint operation, held in the auditorium of the Directorate-General of International Coordination of the Federal Police of Argentina with the Spanish customs and police officials and their Argentine counterparts, the national acting judiciary authorised the broadcasting of the recovery of the Argentine paleontological pieces illegally exported to Spain.
We thank Comisario Fernando Gómez Benigno (Centro Nacional de Protección del Patrimonio Cultural – Departimento INTERPOL – Policía Federal Argentina) for the official information and the photographical documentation of the seizure.