Crackdown on criminal network that stole 170 historical books worth EUR 2.5 million across Europe

25 April 2024|PRESS RELEASE

Eurojust and Europol have supported the competent authorities in Lithuania, France, Latvia, Poland, Switzerland and Georgia in an international operation against an organised crime group (OCG) that allegedly stole 170 books of high historical and cultural value across several European countries. The stolen books have an estimated value of EUR 2.5 million and were written by well-known Russian novelists such as Pushkin, Gogol and Lermontov.

Eurojust assisted the authorities in coordinating the actions and in setting up and funding a joint investigation team (JIT) into the case.

The perpetrators, of Georgian origin, are believed to have committed robberies in libraries located in France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Switzerland.

open book

The OCG used different modus operandi to steal the books. In some cases, the OCG members used fake identities when ordering books in the libraries, for example presenting themselves as researchers. While one OCG member pretended to consult with the library staff, thereby distracting security, another replaced the original valuable book with a copy.

In other cases, the perpetrators simply broke into the library and stole the books. Before committing the thefts, they visited libraries and checked out books of the same type as the ones stolen.

Eurojust has supported the case since November 2023, assisting the authorities involved in the coordination of their investigations and in the determination of legal strategies. Three coordination meetings were hosted by the Agency to bring together all judicial authorities involved, in order to facilitate their judicial cooperation, and to prepare for the joint action. The Agency also facilitated the setting up of a JIT between France, Lithuania, Poland, Georgia and Switzerland in March 2024. Europol was also a participant in the JIT.

During the action day, a coordination centre was set up at Eurojust connecting simultaneously the different teams in the field in the countries where operations were taking place. The coordination centre enabled rapid cooperation and ensured that evidence and information collected were swiftly exchanged between all national authorities involved.

The coordinated operations led to the arrest of four suspects in Georgia. A total of 27 locations were searched in Georgia and Latvia. One stolen book was recovered and many other books, which have to be examined further, were also seized. Ten witnesses were interviewed and over a hundred police officers and prosecutors were involved in the operation.

With reports of rare and historical books being stolen across Europe, Europol facilitated the information exchange between the affected countries and helped to identify the main suspects. Europol’s analysis during this case helped to create links, identify leads and even uncover a theft that had not yet been discovered. Before supporting the action day, Europol held two operational meetings in its headquarters.

The following authorities took part in this investigation:

  • Estonia: Estonian Prosecutor´s Office; Police and Border Guard Board
  • France: Court of Paris, OCBC (Central Office against Cultural Goods Trafficking)
  • Georgia: Office of the Prosecutor General
  • Germany: Public Prosecutor’s Office Munich I, Public Prosecutor’s Office Berlin, Bavarian State Criminal Police Office (BLKA, Division 622), Berlin State Criminal Police Office
  • Latvia: International cooperation Division of the Prosecutor General’s Office; International Cooperation Department of the Central Criminal Police Department of the State Police; Criminal police bureau of the Riga Regional Department of the State Police
  • Lithuania: Vilnius Regional PPO, Vilnius County Police Headquarters
  • Poland: Circuit Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw
  • Switzerland: Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic and Canton of Geneva; Cantonal police of the Republic and Canton of Geneva