Gone in 9 minutes: How the Celtic gold theft happened in Germany

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BERLIN – Thieves who broke into a museum in southern Germany and stole hundreds of ancient gold coins were in and out within nine minutes without raising the alarm, officials said Wednesday, in yet another sign that the heist was the work of organized crime.

Police launched an international manhunt for the thieves and their loot, which in 1999 included 483 Celtic coins and a piece of unwrought gold discovered during an archaeological dig near the present-day city of Manching.

Guido Limmer, deputy chief of the Bavarian State Criminal Police, explained how the cables were cut at a telecommunications junction about a kilometer (less than a mile) from the Celtic and Roman Museum in Manching at 1:17 a.m. (0017 GMT) on Tuesday. , disrupting communication networks in the region.

Security systems at the museum recorded a door being opened at 1:26 a.m. and then the thieves leaving again at 1:35 a.m., Limmer said. It was in those nine minutes that the culprits broke the display cabinet and took out the treasure.

Limmer said there were “parallels” between the robbery in Manching and the theft of a priceless gem in Dresden and a large gold coin in Berlin in recent years. Both fall on a crime family living in Berlin.

“We can’t say if there’s a connection,” he said. “It’s just that: we’re contacting our colleagues to explore all possible angles.”

Markus Blume, Bavaria’s science and arts minister, said the evidence pointed to the work of professionals.

“Obviously, you don’t just walk into a museum and take this treasure with you,” he told public broadcaster BR. “It is highly guarded and therefore there is a suspicion that we are dealing with organized crime.”

Officials admitted that no security guards were present at the museum during the night.

Rupert Gebhard, head of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich, said that the alarm system provides sufficient security.

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

He said the bowl-shaped coins, dating from around 100 BC, were made of Bohemian river gold and showed how the Celtic settlement at Manching had contact with Europe.

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

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

“The worst case scenario is that the meltdown means a total loss for us,” he said, noting that the material value of the gold itself would only amount to about 250,000 euros at current market prices.

Gebhard said the size of the treasure suggests it could have been “a war chest of a tribal chief.” It was found in a sack buried under the foundations of a building and was the largest find made during a regular archaeological dig in Germany in the 20th century.

Deputy Police Chief Limmer said Interpol and Europol had already been alerted to the coin theft and a 20-man special investigation unit, code-named “Oppidum” after the Latin word for a Celtic settlement, had been set up to track down the culprits. .