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Mexican special crime unit to hunt down illegally trafficked artworks

Police unit dedicated to repatriation of looted art and antiquities to be founded, Mexico president says

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Mexico is to form a special crime unit dedicated to finding and repatriating looted artworks and antiquities, the Mexican president Andres Manuel López Obrador has said.

The announcement was made during the opening of the exhibition La Grandeza de México at the Museo Nacional de Antropología this week following the successful recovery of various archeological pieces due to be sold in Italy.

López Obrador said he was inspired by the work of the Italian Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the unit attached to the Italian police that specialises in recovering stolen art. He also praised the Italian gendarmerie, called the Arma dei Carabinieri, for supporting Mexico in recovering looted pre-Hispanic pieces.

“We are already going to follow the Italian example,” he said. “I have already instructed a special team be set up to achieve this purpose.”

“Imagine if every country had such a unit and worked together to repatriate works that had been looted or trafficked from their countries of origin,” said the president.

Details about the new art crime unit are yet to be released. The news has surprised some who have observed that Mexico already has a number of specialist groups who deal with repatriation. Mexican officials have not responded to a request for comment at the time of this publication.

It is understood the new force will operate within the Guardia Nacional, the civil security force formed shortly after López Obrador took office in 2019. Earlier this year, he sought to increase the amount allocated to the Guardia Nacional by $2.5m over the next two years with the aim of making the organisation “incorruptible.”

The  Museo Nacional de Antropología itself was the subject of an audacious theft in 1985, which saw two former students steal more than 150 items. Almost all of the objects were found in Mexico City a few years later, and the heist was later fictionalised in the 2018 feature film, Museo.

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