Celtic treasure coins are on display at the local Celtic and Roman Museum in Manching, Germany, May 31, 2006. A senior official said Wednesday that organized crime groups were likely behind the theft of a huge horde of ancient gold coins stolen from a museum in southern Germany this week. (Frank Maechler, dpa via AP)
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BERLIN — Thieves who broke into a southern German museum and stole hundreds of old gold coins came in and out within nine minutes without raising the alarm, officials said Wednesday, a further sign that the robbery was the work of organized criminals.
Police have launched an international hunt for the thieves and their loot, consisting of 483 Celtic coins and a nugget of gold bullion discovered during an archaeological dig near the present-day city of Manching in 1999.
Guido Limmer, the deputy chief of the Bavarian criminal investigation department, described how at 1:17 a.m. (0017 GMT) on Tuesday, cables were cut at a telecom hub about a kilometer (less than a mile) from the Celtic and Roman Museum in Manchning, destroying communications networks are disabled in the region.
Security systems at the museum recorded a door being forced open at 1:26 a.m. and the thieves leaving again at 1:35 a.m., Limmer said. In those nine minutes, the perpetrators must have broken open a display cabinet and taken out the treasure.
Limmer said there were “parallels” between the Manching robbery and the theft of priceless jewels in Dresden and a large gold coin in Berlin in recent years. Both are attributed to a Berlin-based crime family.
“Whether there is a link, we can’t say,” he added. “Only so much. We’re in touch with colleagues to explore all possible angles.”
Bavarian science and arts minister Markus Blume said there was evidence that the work was by professionals.
“Obviously you don’t just march into a museum and take this treasure with you,” he told public broadcaster BR. “It is heavily secured and therefore it is suspected that we are dealing with a case of organized crime.”
Clearly you don’t just march into a museum and take this treasure with you. … It is highly secured and therefore there is a suspicion that we are dealing with an organized crime case.
–Bavarian minister of science and arts, Markus Blume
However, officials acknowledged that there was no guard at the museum at night.
An alarm system was considered to provide sufficient security, said Rupert Gebhard, head of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich.
Gebhard said the treasure was of great value both to the local community in Manching and to archaeologists across Europe.
The cup-shaped coins, which date back to about 100 B.C., are made of Bohemian river gold and show how the Celtic settlement in Manching had ties to all of Europe, he said.
Gebhard estimated the treasure’s value at about 1.6 million euros ($1.65 million).
“The archaeologists hope that the coins will remain in their original state and reappear at some point,” he said, adding that they are well documented and will be difficult to sell.
“The worst option, melting down, would mean a total loss for us,” he said, noting that the material value of the gold itself at current market prices would only be about $250,000.
Gebhard said the size of the hoard suggested it might have been “a chieftain’s war chest”. Found in a bag buried under building foundations, it was the largest discovery made during regular archaeological excavations in Germany in the 20th century.
Limmer, the deputy police chief, said Interpol and Europol have already been notified of the theft of the coins and a 20-strong special investigation unit, codenamed “Oppidum” after the Latin term for a Celtic settlement, has been set up. set up to find the perpetrators. .