BERLIN (AP) — Thieves who broke into a southern German museum and stole hundreds of ancient gold coins were in and out in nine minutes without raising an alarm, authorities said Wednesday, further signs that the heist was the work of organized criminals.
Police launched an international manhunt for the thieves and their loot, which consisted of 483 Celtic coins and a nugget of unwrought gold, discovered during an archaeological dig near the present-day city of Manching in 1999.
Guido Limmer, the deputy chief of Bavaria’s state criminal police, described how at 01:17 (0017 GMT) on Tuesday the cables were cut at a telecommunications center about one kilometer (less than a mile) from the Celtic and Roman Museum in Munching. knocking out communication networks in the region.
Security systems at the museum recorded the door being opened at 1:26 a.m. and then the thieves leaving again at 1:35 a.m., Limmer said. In those nine minutes, the culprits had to break a display case and take out the treasure.
Limmer said there were “parallels” between the robbery in Manning and the theft of priceless jewels in Dresden and a large gold coin in Berlin in recent years. Both are accused of being part of a Berlin-based crime family.
“Whether there is a connection, we cannot say,” he added. “Just this: we are in contact with colleagues to explore all possible angles.”
Bavarian Science and Art Minister Markus Blume said the evidence points to the work of professionals.
“Clearly you don’t just walk into a museum and take this treasure with you,” he told public broadcaster BR. “It is highly secured and as such there is a suspicion that we are rather dealing with a case of organized crime.”
Officials, however, admitted that there was no guard at the museum during the night.
The alarm system is considered to provide sufficient security, said Rupert Gebhardt, who heads the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich.
Gebhardt said the repository is of great value both to the local community in Manching and to archaeologists across Europe.
The plate-shaped coins, which date to around 100 BC, are made from Bohemian gold and show how the Celtic settlement at Manching had connections across Europe, he said.
Gebhard estimated the value of the treasure at around 1.6 million euros ($1.65 million).
“Archaeologists hope that the coins will remain in their original state and will reappear at some point,” he said, adding that they were well documented and would be difficult to sell.
“The worst option, melting, would mean a total loss for us,” he said, noting that the material value of the gold itself would only be around 250,000 euros at current market prices.
Gebhardt said the size of the treasure suggests it may have been “a war chest of a tribal chief”. It was found in a sack buried under the foundation of the building and is the largest such discovery made during regular archaeological excavations in Germany in the 20th century.
Limmer, the deputy police chief, said Interpol and Europol had already been alerted to the theft of the coins and that a special investigation unit of 20 soldiers, codenamed “Oppidum” after the Latin term for a Celtic settlement, had been set up to find the culprits. .