The items, including coins, pendants, brooches, statues and spearheads, were hidden inside a trailer full of trousers in a vehicle driven by Dimitar Dimitrov and found by police on October 27 last year.
The 41-year-old, from Pazardzhik in Bulgaria, pleaded guilty to transferring criminal property. The court case followed an investigation by Kent Police with assistance from the Metropolitan Police Service’s specialist Art and Antiquities Unit and the Bulgarian authorities.
Evidence including messages found on Dimitrov’s mobile phone led officers to believe the items were to be taken to a member of an organised crime group, who would then try to sell them to antique collectors in London.
Investigating officer Det Con Max Gregory of Kent Police said: “The illegal excavation of antiques is an ongoing issue in Bulgaria, depriving its citizens of an important part of its cultural heritage. Fortunately on this occasion our Border Force colleagues were able to intercept the lorry driven by Dimitar Dimitrov before it could get any further, and we look forward to returning the antiquities to the people of Bulgaria.
“I would like to thank the Metropolitan Police Service’s Art and Antiquities Unit for their assistance on this case, as their specialist knowledge proved invaluable in bringing Dimitrov to justice.”
Det Sgt Mark Hoddinott of the Met Police said: “Det Con Sophie Hayes from our Art and Antiquities Unit was instrumental in securing expert witness statements from the British Museum, and also liaised directly with police in Bulgaria to allow for fast-time intelligence to be shared with Kent Police.
“The significant sentence in this case reflects that the smuggling of cultural goods is organised criminal activity which causes serious and significant harm to the country from where the archaeological material was stolen from.
“By intercepting this shipment, UK law enforcement have prevented it from entering the London art market, thereby also preventing the general public from buying illicit goods. Enquiries are still on-going to identity other individuals within this criminal network.”