Antiques smuggled into UK by Bulgarian Mafia found hidden in lorry at Dover and returned
BULGARIAN stolen antiques smuggled into the country in a consignment of trousers have been returned to the country.
Coins, pendants, brooches, statues and spearheads worth an estimated £76,110 were among the antiquities found hidden inside a lorry at the Port of Dover.
The driver Dimitar Dimitrov, 41, (below) was working as a courier on behalf of a Bulgarian organised crime group and was jailed for two years at Canterbury Crown Court in March after pleading guilty to transferring criminal property.
Detectives involved in the investigation from Kent Police and the Metropolitan Police specialist Art and Antiquities Unit attended a ceremony at the Bulgarian Embassy in London where the artefacts, found on October 27 2020, were formally handed back to the nation along with other items seized during separate investigations carried out in London.
Ambassador Marin Raykov of the Bulgarian Embassy said: "We look at our historical and cultural heritage as a major factor for preserving our national identity.
"On one hand it is our legacy and our national asset, on the other our contribution to European and world history and culture.
"‘Illegal looting and inflicts colossal damage, both by robbing future generations of an essential part of their cultural heritage and with altering history.
"For this reason it is imperative to deal with such international criminal networks through enhanced international cooperation.
"The handover event was the best example and proof of the successful cooperation that has been built between the British and Bulgarian law enforcement agencies, based on trust, common ideals and high professional standards."
Inspector Shaun Creed of Kent Police’s Border Policing team said: ‘The illegal excavation of antiques is an ongoing issue in Bulgaria, depriving its citizens of an important part of their cultural heritage.
"The criminals responsible think nothing of the harm it causes when they smuggle their ill-gotten gains into countries like the UK, often using the proceeds from their smuggling to fund other international criminal activities.
"It was an honour and a privilege for Kent Police to be invited to attend the Bulgarian Embassy for this special occasion, and to formally return the items that should never have found their way into the UK in the first place.
"We will continue to work with our partners both at home and abroad to tackle this type of criminality and hope this result sends a clear message to anyone else planning to smuggle items into the country."
Detective Superintendent John Roch, Head of Economic Crime for the Metropolitan Police, said: "Intercepting these artefacts prevents organised criminals benefiting from their unlawful conduct and stops the pieces being acquired by innocent members of the public.
"The Art and Antiques Unit will continue to work closely with enforcement agencies across the UK and internationally in order to protect cultural heritage from thieves, smugglers and fraudsters."
Dimitrov, from Pazardzhik in Bulgaria, initially denied any knowledge of the items in his lorry, which were found during a search by Border Force officers on October 27 2020.
The items had been concealed within two black packages that were taped onto an airline in the vehicle's chassis rail, which he claimed must have been placed there without his knowledge.
But, evidence including messages found on his mobile phone led officers to believe he had been planning to deliver the items to another member of the organised crime group, who would then try to sell them to antique collectors in London.