Coins from the Celtic treasure are on display at the local Celtic and Roman museum in Manching, Germany May 31, 2006. A senior official said on Wednesday organized crime groups were likely behind the theft of a huge hoard of antique 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 antique gold coins got in and out of it within nine minutes without raising an alarm, officials said Wednesday, another sign 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 unworked gold, discovered in 1999 during an archaeological dig near modern-day Manching.
Guido Limmer, deputy chief of the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office, described how cables were cut at a telecom hub about a kilometer from the Celtic and Roman Museum in Manchning at 1.17 a.m. (0017 GMT) on Tuesday, shutting down communications networks in the region.
Security systems at the museum recorded a door being forced open at 1:26 a.m. and then the thieves disappearing at 1:35 a.m., Limmer said. In these nine minutes, the perpetrators must have opened a showcase and scooped 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 accused of a Berlin crime family.
“We can’t say whether there is a connection,” he added. “Just this much: we are in contact with colleagues to investigate all possible angles.”
Bavaria’s Science and Art Minister Markus Blume said there were indications of the work of professionals.
“It’s clear that you don’t just march into a museum and take this treasure with you,” he told the public broadcaster BR. “It’s highly secured, so there’s a suspicion that we’re dealing more with an organized crime case.”
Of course you don’t just march into a museum and take this treasure with you. … It’s highly secured, so there’s a suspicion that we’re dealing more with an organized crime case.
–Bavaria’s Minister for Science and Art, Markus Blume
However, officials acknowledged that there was no guard at the museum overnight.
An alarm system offers sufficient security, said Rupert Gebhard, head of the Bavarian State Collection in Munich.
Gebhard said the treasure is of great value both to the local community in Manching and to archaeologists across Europe.
Dating to about 100 BC, the bowl-shaped coins Dating back to around 1000 BC, they were made from Bohemian river gold and show how the Celtic settlement at Manching had connections across Europe, he said.
Gebhard estimated the treasure to be worth around 1.6 million euros ($1.65 million).The Celtic-Roman Museum is pictured in the evening light in Manching, Germany, on Tuesday. A huge horde of ancient gold coins from around 100 BC. was stolen from the Manching Museum in southern Germany, police said on Tuesday. (Photo: Armin Weigel, dpa via AP)
“Archaeologists hope that the coins will remain in their original state and eventually turn up again,” he said, adding that they are well-documented and difficult to sell.
“The worst option, meltdown, would mean a total loss for us,” he said, noting that the physical value of the gold, even at current market prices, would only be around €250,000.
Gebhard said the size of the find suggested it could be “a tribal chief’s war chest.” Found in a sack buried under building foundations, it was the largest such find made during regular archaeological digs 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 a 20-strong special investigation unit, codenamed “Oppidum” after the Latin term for a Celtic settlement, had been set up to track down the culprits .