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Gone in 9 minutes: how the Celtic gold heist happened in Germany

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Gone in 9 minutes: how the Celtic gold heist happened in Germany
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BERLIN — Thieves who broke into a museum in southern Germany and stole hundreds of ancient gold coins walked in and out in nine minutes without raising the alarm, officials said Wednesday, a further sign that the theft 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 piece of unworked gold which were discovered during an archaeological dig near the present-day town of Manching in 1999 .

Guido Limmer, the deputy head of the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office, described how at 1:17 a.m. (0017 GMT) on Tuesday cables were cut at a telecommunications hub about a kilometer away (less one mile) from the Celtic and Roman Museum in Manchning. , knocking out communication networks in the region.

The museum’s security systems recorded that a door was forced open at 1:26 a.m. and then how the thieves left at 1:35 a.m., Limmer said. It was during these nine minutes that the culprits had to break down a window and extricate the treasure.

Limmer said there were “parallels” between the Manching heist and the theft of priceless jewelry in Dresden and a large gold coin in Berlin in recent years. Both were blamed on a Berlin-based crime family.

“If there is a link, we cannot tell,” he added. “Only this: we are in contact with colleagues to study all possible angles.”

Bavarian Science and Arts Minister Markus Blume said evidence pointed to the work of professionals.

“It’s clear that you don’t just walk into a museum and take this treasure with you,” he told public broadcaster BR. “It’s highly secure and as such it’s suspected we’re dealing with an organized crime case instead.”

Officials, however, acknowledged that there were no guards at the museum overnight.

An alarm system was deemed to provide sufficient security, said Rupert Gebhard, who heads the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich.

Gebhard said the hoard was of great value both to the local Manching community and to archaeologists across Europe.

The bowl-shaped coins, dating from around 100 BC. were made from river gold from Bohemia and show how the Celtic settlement of Manching had links across Europe, he said.

Gebhard estimated the value of the treasure at around 1.6 million euros ($1.65 million).

“Archaeologists hope the pieces will remain in their original condition and reappear at some point,” he said, adding that they are well documented and would be difficult to sell.

“The worst option, smelting, would mean a total loss for us,” he said, noting that the material value of gold itself would only be around 250,000 euros at current market prices.

Gebhard said the size of the hoard suggested it may have been a “tribal chieftain’s war chest”. It was found inside a bag buried under the foundations of a building and was the largest such find made during regular archaeological excavations 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 that a 20-person special investigation unit, dubbed “Oppidum” after the Latin term for a colony Celtic, was created to find the culprits. .

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