By Jess McHugh
August 11, 2016
A port in Italy.
Credit: Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images

Authorities at a port in Liguria, Italy, caught an American businessman as he was attempting to smuggle more than 100 ancient Roman artifacts from Miami to his villa in Tuscany.

The man will face charges under the code of cultural heritage, as well as evasion of customs fees up to 23,000 euros—about $25,621.

Italian authorities seized oil paintings and artifacts, including antique furniture, terracotta pots, several rare marble statues, and a funeral vase from 4 B.C. in a mission dubbed “Operation Opulentia” by law enforcement for the high value of the objects.

Two of the smuggled artifacts.
Two of the smuggled artifacts confiscated.
| Credit: Agenzia delle Dogane e dei Monopoli

Authorities in the port of La Spezia called the mission “a real trip back in time” in a press release, noting the many rare and well-preserved objects that had been found in the shipping crates. The owner, who had previously shipped other containers from Italy to the United States, did not provide documentation for the objects’ origins.

Antiquities trafficking has long been cultural blight throughout the world. Italy is not alone in struggling to combat art traffickers as collectors and dilettantes alike clamor for rare works of art, according to Stefan Simon, a conservation scientist specializing in cultural heritage at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

“Illicit traffic is a global issue,” Simon told Travel + Leisure. “But the world is large. Cultural heritage is threatened everywhere.”

Beyond the immediate cultural loss of a stolen or damaged artifact, this type of trafficking also fuels other forms of organized crime and illicit trade.

“This money is not going into building schools and kindergartens,” he said. “This money is going into crime.”