Four men suspected of stealing a trove of Celtic gold coins from a museum north of Munich last year have been arrested, Bavarian police officials said.
The men, aged between 42 and 50 years old, were traced to the area surrounding the city of Schwerin in northern Germany and to Halle in North Rhine-Westphalia, and arrested during a police search of 28 residential premises, business premises, a boathouse and vehicles on Tuesday, police said.
One of the men was found with lumps of gold of the same composition as the coins in a plastic bag, a police statement said. That suggests the suspects melted down at least a part of the treasure stolen from the Kelten Römer Museum in Manching in November 2022, the vice president of the Bavarian police force, Guido Limmer, told a press conference today.
"Seventy of these coins have been irreparably lost," said Markus Blume, the Bavarian art minister. "There is still hope of finding the rest."
The treasure consisted of 483 gold coins in total and is thought to have originated in Bohemia and brought to Manching via trade links. It was discovered by an archaeological team in 1999 and was the biggest Celtic gold find of the 20th century, providing evidence of the importance of Manching, near Ingolstadt, in the first and second centuries B.C.
Police said the gold’s material value is about €250,000, but Blume stressed that as a cultural treasure, it is irreplaceable. Investigators are still searching premises in the Schwerin area and using metal detectors to search large properties with grounds where the remaining coins could have been reburied, Limmer said.
DNA traces link three of the suspects to eight further burglaries dating back to 2014 in Germany and in Austria, involving supermarkets, a casino, petrol stations and a cash dispenser. It is possible that the same team is responsible for many more crimes dating back to the 1990s, officials said. “We are dealing with professional burglars,” said Joachim Herrmann, the Bavarian interior minister.
In Manching and in several of the other crimes, fibre optic cables were cut so that alarm systems would not be able to alert police of break-ins by telephone. One of the arrested suspects is employed as a telecommunications engineer, said Nicolas Kaczynski, the Ingolstadt prosecutor.
The gold had been on display at the Manching museum since 2006. Blume said its theft had raised awareness in Bavaria that increased security is needed to protect museums.