4 Indicted, 3 Arrested in Peru Artifact Trafficking Case

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Four people have been indicted by a US federal grand jury for the illegal trafficking of Peruvian artifacts, in the most recent case exposing the lucrative black market trade that is worth billions.

Three suspects — two naturalized US citizens and one Peruvian national — were arrested in Utah and Miami, while a second Peruvian suspect remains at large. (See indictment below.)

During the investigation leading up to the arrests, the US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) body used an undercover agent to buy artifacts from Utah resident Cesar Guarderas, and to maintain phone and email contact with Guarderas and Peruvian national Javier Abanto-Sarmiento, the brother of Guarderas’ wife. Over the course of the investigation, officials confiscated over 30 artifacts, as detailed by the Salt Lake Tribune.

Peru’s Foreign Ministry — which confirmed the dismantling of the artifact trafficking band — said the investigation has been underway since October 2012, and that authorities are investigating possible contacts the suspects had in that Andean nation. No arrests have yet been made in Peru.

InSight Crime Analysis

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials estimate that the trade in illicit artifacts is worth up to $8 billion a year world wide. According to ICE, HSI officials have returned over 6,600 cultural heritage items originating from 24 countries since 2007. 

The artifacts trade is a problem for various Latin American countries, as evidenced by the US hosting an anti-trafficking workshop for Guatemala, Belize and Mexico in the Spring of 2012. In Peru — where the problem was recently highlighted in another high profile case when Bolivia returned a stolen Peruvian mummy — the government estimates that $18 million a year in artifacts are illegally smuggled out of the country.

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