Spectacular Book Theft Solved, Books Worth Millions Recovered in Romania

On 16 September, following the execution of a European investigation order, a house search led by the Romanian police in the county of Neamt uncovered the rare books buried underground. Reported stolen from a warehouse in Feltham (UK) in 2017, the priceless historical antiques included first editions of Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The have a combined value in excess of 2-3 million euros, but are deemed to be of international importance and are considered irreplaceable.

This discovery is the result of an international law enforcement cooperation between the United Kingdom (Metropolitan Police Service), Italy (Italian Carabinieri – Arma dei Carabinieri) and Romania (Romanian National Police – Poliția Română) with the support of Europol and Eurojust. The individuals suspected with the theft are currently in pre-trial detention in the United Kingdom.

In January 2017 the books were being stored in a postal transit warehouse in West London waiting to be sent to a specialist book auction in Las Vegas. The suspects broke in by cutting holes in the roof and then abseiling down, avoiding the many sensors. The books were put in 16 large bags and the suspects left with them the same way they entered.

Probably the most valuable of the stolen books was a second edition of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, the pricipal work of Nicolaus Copernicus, which was printed in Basel in 1566. Value: approx. 230,000 euros.

A Three Year-long International Cooperation

Following the million heist in the UK executed by an organised crime group composed of Romanian nationals, a Joint Investigation Team was set up between the cooperating countries with the support of Europol and the judicial assistance of Eurojust. This joint investigation framework provided the involved law enforcement authorities with the analytical tools, the coordination of information exchange and the judicial expertise to carry out several criminal investigation activities. As a result, 15 suspects linked to the criminal organisation were arrested in the UK and Romania in June 2019.

In January 2020, further outcomes emerged from this coordinated investigation with the arrest of the kingpin behind the cultural loot. The suspect, a Romanian national wanted by the British authorities, was arrested by the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Italy (Turin).

This operation is a double success for law enforcement who tracked the suspects down and recovered the stolen treasures before they went for sale. Europol’s Analysis Project (AP) FURTUM dedicated to tackling all areas of property crime was involved and assisted with operational coordination, analytical support and the exchange and sharing of vital information.


Other things you might be interested in:

Does the illustration of the Copernicus title page look familiar? A few weeks ago we presented to you one edition of Boethius’ works from 1546 from collection of the MoneyMuseum. It came from the same printing office, the Officina Henricpetrina in Basel. The hammer falling on a rock was the printer’s mark and can therefore be found in both books.

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