North Macedonia charges 8 for antiquities smuggling

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Eight men have been charged in connection with an antiquities smuggling case in North Macedonia, where ancient artifacts were dug up in illegal excavations across the country to be sold to foreign buyers, the prosecutor’s office said Friday.

The alleged illegal excavations and sales occurred in 2020 and 2021. The eight were arrested in September 2021 following police raids on their homes and other properties connected to them in 10 locations in the southwestern town of Bitola and the northwestern town of Tetovo.

During the raids, police seized a large number of artifacts, including ancient figurines and jewelry, as well as firearms, metal detectors and computer hard drives.

The public prosecution office said in a statement the two main suspects allegedly led dozens of illegal excavations beginning in May 2020 to supply buyers in Albania, Croatia, Greece, Serbia, Turkey and the United States.

Six of the eight are under house arrest while the two suspects believed to have been the organizers are in custody. All eight were charged with destruction of archaeological sites and violating laws protecting antiquities,. The two alleged ringleaders were also charged with forming a criminal organization, and potentially face a combined maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

No trial date has been set.

Antiquities are protected by law in North Macedonia, and only state institutions are allowed to excavate and own them.

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