Operation Corsair: intelligence exchange led to the seizure of more than 4,000 fossils by Spanish Customs

In cooperation with Argentinean Customs, Spanish Customs (Agencia Tributaria) prevented illicit import of fossils of high paleontological value. This Operation, codenamed Corsair, was successfully carried out despite the restrictions on working modalities imposed by governments following the COVID-19 pandemic. Using intelligence made available through the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) channel, surveillance investigators of Spanish Customs were able to identify a high-risk container, which was duly inspected by Customs officers in May 2020 in the seaport of Valencia.

During the inspection, Customs officers found more than 4,000 fossils, including five well-preserved dinosaur eggs and a complete specimen of the dinosaur that had been discovered in the Argentinean province of Rio Negro, minerals, as well as multiple specimen of animals protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Many fossils had been mixed with stones of different shapes and colours of no paleontological value in order to evade Customs controls.

Throughout the Operation, the WCO provided the law enforcement agencies of both countries with the secure ARCHEO communication channel as well as operational support. In addition to the Customs authorities of the two countries, this Operation would not have been possible without the cooperation and coordination between other Spanish and Argentinean authorities, namely the Spanish National Police, the Spanish Ministry of Culture and the Museum of Natural Sciences in Valencia, the Argentinean National Central Bureau of INTERPOL and the Argentinean Federal Police.

The restitution of cultural property will be carried out within the framework of the bilateral Convention on the Restitution of Cultural Property and the UNESCO Convention on the Prohibition and Prevention of the Importation, Exportation and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, as well as the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects. The cultural property will be repatriated after the authorization of the competent judicial authorities.