Page last updated at 16:24 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 17:24 UK

Spain seizes 'priceless' antiques

By Steve Kingstone
BBC News, Madrid

Some of the seized artefacts, picture courtesy of Spanish police, 6 May 2008
Police said some of the artefacts were worth more than $200,000

Spanish police have arrested a couple accused of illegally trafficking a "priceless" haul of artefacts from Latin America for resale in Europe.

The artefacts, which predate the discovery of the Americas by Columbus, were allegedly destined for France.

An Interpol investigation in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador led to the arrest of the Spanish man and Colombian woman.

Police searched their Spanish home and luggage to find 700 pieces allegedly looted from archaeological sites.

Items seized from the married couple included masks, pendants, paintings and ceramics.

Dozens of the smuggled items were made of gold, and all are at least 500 years old - offering a valuable insight into life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus.

Colombian middlemen?

It is alleged that the historic treasures were plundered from archaeological sites - mostly in Peru and Ecuador - and then sold on to the couple through middlemen in Colombia.

The couple had just returned from a trip to the Colombian capital, Bogota.

Interpol played a co-ordinating role in the investigation.

The Spanish police seized documents and a computer which allegedly detailed a trade in cultural contraband stretching back years.

Smuggled goods are said to have been sold on in various European countries - principally France, where the couple had planned an auction later this month.

The confiscated artefacts are due to be analysed at a museum in Madrid, and will later be returned to their countries of origin.

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