BERLIN (AP) — Thieves who broke into a southern German museum and stole hundreds of ancient gold coins got in and out within nine minutes without raising an alarm, authorities said Wednesday, suggesting the theft was the work of organized crime.
Police have launched an international manhunt for the thieves and their loot, which includes 483 Celtic coins and a gold nugget discovered in 1999 during an archaeological dig near the present-day town of Manching.
Guido Limmer, deputy chief of Bavaria’s state criminal police office, described how cables were cut at a telecommunications center about a kilometer (less than a mile) from the Celtic and Roman Museum in Münching at 1:17 a.m. (0017 GMT) on Tuesday. , knocking out communication networks in the region.
Security systems at the museum reported that a door was opened at 1:26 a.m. and then the thieves left again at 1:35 a.m., Limmer said. Within those nine minutes, the criminals must have broken open the display cabinet and taken out the treasure.
Limmer said there were “parallels” between the theft in Münching and the theft of precious jewels in Dresden And a large gold coin in Berlin In recent years. The two have been blamed on a Berlin-based crime family.
“We cannot say whether there is a link,” he added. “Just this: We are in contact with colleagues to investigate all possible angles.”
Bavaria’s Minister of Science and the Arts, Markus Blum, said the evidence points to the work of professionals.
“It’s clear that you don’t just march into a museum and take this treasure with you,” he told public broadcaster BR. “It is highly secured and therefore there is a suspicion that we are dealing with a case of organized crime instead.”
However, the officials admitted that there was no security guard at the museum throughout the night.
Rupert Gebhardt, head of the Bavarian State Archaeological Museum in Munich, said the alarm system provided adequate security.
Gebhardt said the plaque is of great value to the local community in Munching and to archaeologists across Europe.
The bowl-shaped coins, dating from around 100 BC, were made from Bohemian river gold and show how the Celtic settlement at Manching had connections across Europe, he said.
Gebhard estimated the value of the treasure at 1.6 million euros ($1.65 million).
“Archaeologists hope that the coins will remain in their original state and reappear at some point,” he said, adding that they are well documented and difficult to sell.
“The worst option, a meltdown, means we will lose completely,” he said, adding that the physical value of gold would only run to 250,000 euros at current market prices.
Gebhardt said the size of the treasure suggests it may have been the “war chest of a tribal chief”. It was found in a sack buried under the foundation of a building and was the largest find made during a routine archaeological excavation 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 named ‘oppidum’, after the Latin word for a Celtic settlement, had been set up. .