Twenty-three people were arrested in Italy and other European countries on charge of antiquities trafficking on Wednesday, Italian police said.
The operation was ordered by prosecutors in the city of Caltanissetta, Sicily, in coordination with the European Union agencies for law enforcement (Europol) and judicial cooperation (Eurojust), according to Italy's military police Carabinieri.
The arrests were carried out in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Britain by the respective national police forces.
In this operation, 20 Italian nationals were either brought to jail or put under house arrest in the regions of Sicily, Campania, Puglia, and Piedmont in Italy.
Another three men living in London, Barcelona, and Ehingen (Donau) in the German region of Baden-Wurttemberg were reached by European arrest warrants issued by the Sicilian magistrates, the Carabinieri Unit for the Protection of Cultural Heritage said in a statement.
The investigation unveiled a large transnational trafficking of artefacts, which were unearthed in archaeological sites in Sicily and destined to the European markets.
A crucial role in the trafficking was allegedly played by a 64-year-old art dealer based in London, who was among the three people arrested outside Italy.
The ring was able to illegally trade a significant number of archaeological artefacts from Sicily, according to investigators.
"The finds -- obtained through illegal excavations in Sicily -- were delivered to local representatives of the organization, and then entrusted to couriers who secretly exported them to Germany," the Carabinieri explained.
Once in Germany, the relics were "cleaned up" with fictitious certificates of origin, and put into the legal art market through auction houses based in Munich, Bavaria.
Since the investigation was launched in 2014, some 20,000 archaeological relics worth over 40 million euros (46.5 million U.S. dollars) on the market were seized, police said.
Inspections were ordered in two "relevant auction houses" in Munich. Enditem