Feb. 21 (UPI) -- A crackdown on the illegal trafficking of cultural artifacts led to the confiscation of more than 41,000 items at the end of 2017, the European Police Force announced Wednesday.
Europol said 81 countries and multiple law enforcement organizations took part in the effort to seize paintings, coins, furniture, sculptures and manuscripts.
The operation -- with dual codenames Athena and Pandora II -- took place from October to early December in 2017 and involved Interpol, the World Customs Organization, Spanish Guardia Civil and local customs officials.
The operation "focused on the illicit trafficking of cultural objects, theft, looting as well as internet sales," Europol said.
Law enforcement officials arrested 53 people and opened more than 200 investigations as a result of the operations.
In Spain, alone, authorities seized more than 2,000 cultural items, including a carving of Christ valued at more than $7,300.
Europol said authorities investigated various websites dedicated to the sale and purchase of items of historical value.
"Internet has changed, as in many other fields of our society, the traditional chains of the illicit trade of cultural goods," a statement from the organization said. "It is a new challenge for law enforcement authorities especially for the specialized cultural goods crime units. Now the criminals can reach the collector's (anywhere in the world) without any intermediate, and out of the traditional channels."