British and Swiss Police Break up a Crime Ring and Recover a Valuable Ming Vase in a Sting Operation

The Associated Press
By The Associated Press
August 19, 2023UK
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British and Swiss Police Break up a Crime Ring and Recover a Valuable Ming Vase in a Sting Operation
A Chinese vase which dates back to the Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty in a photo released on Aug. 19, 2023. (Metropolitan Police via AP)

LONDON—A sting operation at a London hotel helped authorities recover a 15th-century Chinese vase worth about 2 million pounds ($2.5 million) and break up the criminal ring believed to have stolen the artifact from a Swiss museum, British police said Saturday.

The vase, which dates to the Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty, was one of three items stolen from the Museum of Far Eastern Art in Geneva in 2019.

The Metropolitan Police Service made the announcement after a London court on Friday found two men guilty of charges related to the gang’s effort to sell the vase. A third man pleaded guilty to similar charges earlier this year, and two other men who were arrested in London are awaiting trial in Switzerland for their alleged role in the burglary. All five are from southeast London.

“The organized crime group involved in this offending believed they could commit significant offenses internationally and that there would be no comeback,’’ said Detective Chief Inspector Matt Webb, from the Met’s Specialist Crime unit. “They were mistaken, highlighting the strength of our relations with international law enforcement partners and our ability to work across international boundaries.’’

London police said they worked with Swiss authorities on the investigation after an auction house alerted them that someone had e-mailed them seeking a valuation for the stolen vase.

Officers working undercover offered to buy the vase for 450,000 pounds ($573,000) and agreed to make the buy at a central London hotel, where the first suspect was arrested.

Police have offered a 10,000 pound ($12,734) reward for information leading to the recovery of a “doucai-style” wine cup with chicken decorations that was also stolen from the Geneva museum. A bowl valued at 80,000 pounds ($101,872) was returned to the museum after it was sold at an auction in Hong Kong in 2019.

The lucrative market for stolen Chinese antiquities has led to several high-profile heists in recent years, including thefts from British museums and auction houses in 2012 that netted jade bowls, figurines, and other items worth millions.

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