Saturday, March 11, 2006


Sunken treasure theft arrests

March 09, 2006

Indonesian police have arrested a Frenchman and German accused of stealing container loads of historical treasures worth millions of dollars using a team of divers from Australia, Britain, France and Belgium.

Frenchman Jean-Paul Blancan and Fred Dobberphul of Germany were arrested yesterday, said national police spokesman Anton Bachrul Alam.

"They have removed national treasures without a permit. They have been declared suspects and we have evidence and witnesses," he said.

They could face between five and 10 years in prison if found guilty of violating a 1993 law on the protection of such treasures, he said.

The French embassy in Jakarta confirmed that they had made inquiries about the arrest of a French citizen.

The antiques were recovered from sunken ships in the sea off Java and the Bangka-Belitung islands, Alam said, adding that they included thousands of ceramics and pieces of glassware dating back centuries.

Police in January seized seven containers of the treasures kept at a warehouse near Jakarta. The operation to extract them began in 2004 and involved a team of divers from Australia, Britain, France and Belgium.

They recovered artefacts from China's Five Dynasties period from 907 to 960 AD and from ancient Egypt, causing a stir among archaeologists who said the cargo shed new light on ancient shipping routes.

The team has insisted their operation was legal - they say they sent DVDs of the treasure images weekly to Indonesian authorities and openly discussed their finds with the media.

They believed the treasures might be bought by a foreign museum or at auction and had said Indonesia would receive half the proceeds.

The 5 million euro ($8 million) operation had earlier run into difficulties, however, with the navy chasing them from their barge in the open sea in November 2004.

Another group of treasure hunters had also tried to move in on the swag.


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