How Theft of $1.65 Million in Ancient Gold Coins from a German Museum Happened in Just 9 Minutes

Thieves who broke into a museum in southern Germany and stole hundreds of ancient gold coins were in and out in nine minutes without raising the alarm, officials said Wednesday, further evidence that the heist was the work of organized criminals.

Police have launched an international manhunt for the thieves and their loot, which consists of 483 Celtic coins and a piece of unwrought gold, which were found during an archaeological dig near the modern town of Manhing in 1999.

A search operation after the theft of gold from the Celtic and Roman Museum
Riot police emergency forces search the area around the Celtic Roman Museum for possible traces on November 25, 2022, in Munching, Bavaria, after a Celtic gold treasure was stolen from the museum.

Lennart Preiss/picture alliance via Getty Images

Guido Limmer, deputy head of the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office, described how cables were cut at a telecommunications hub less than a mile from the Celtic and Roman Museum in Munching at 1:17 a.m. on Tuesday, knocking out the region’s communications network.

This was reported by the city mayor Herbert Nerb The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung: “They cut off the whole Manching.”

Security systems at the museum recorded the doors being opened at 1:26 a.m. and then the thieves leaving again at 1:35 a.m., Leamer said. It was during these nine minutes that the culprits probably broke the showcase and looted the treasure.

Bavarian Science and Arts Minister Markus Blum said the evidence points to the work of professionals.

“It’s clear that you can’t just go to a museum and take this treasure with you,” he told public broadcaster BR. “It’s very secure and that’s why there are suspicions that we’re dealing with organized crime.”

However, officials admitted that there was no security at the museum at night.

The alarm system is believed to provide sufficient security, said Rupert Gebhardt, who heads the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich.

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

The cup-shaped coins, which date to around 100 BC, were made from Czech river gold and show how the Celtic settlement at Manching had connections across Europe, he said.

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

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

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

Gebhard said the size of the treasure chest suggests it could have been a “tribal chieftain’s war chest”. It was found inside a bag buried under the foundation of a building and was the largest such discovery 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 coin theft and a 20-strong special investigations unit codenamed Oppidum, after the Latin term for a Celtic settlement, had been set up to track down the attackers. .

Leamer said there are “parallels” between the Manching robbery and the theft of a a large gold coin in Berlin too $1 billion in value in Dresden – which may have been the largest jewel heist in history. Both are accused of being part of a Berlin crime family.

“Whether there is a connection, we cannot say,” he added. “Just this much: We are in touch with colleagues to explore all possible angles.”

In 2020, German police said they had arrested three suspects in a theft in Dresden.

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