May 6, 2008 / 1:23 PM / 11 years ago

Spain seizes stolen South American artifacts

Antiquities of "incalculable" worth that were plundered from archaeological sites in South America and smuggled to Europe, according to Spanish police, are displayed in Madrid May 6, 2008. REUTERS/Spanish police/Handout

MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish police have seized more than 700 priceless artifacts plundered from archaeological sites in South America and smuggled to Europe, they said on Tuesday.

The pieces, predating the Spanish conquest, included dozens of valuable golden objects, masks, vessels, pendants and maces, stolen from Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

An Interior Ministry statement said police had arrested a Spanish man and his Colombian wife who had been trafficking in stolen artifacts for years, selling them in auction houses in Europe, mainly in France.

The couple had planned to stage an exhibition and auction this month in France, but were arrested after returning from Colombia.

The seized artifacts will be sent for analysis to the Madrid Archaeological Museum and authorities expected them to be claimed by their countries of origin.

Reporting by Martin Roberts; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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