Gardai foil sale of rare Transylvanian gold coins
A joint operation by gardai and Romanian police has helped to foil an attempt by an international syndicate to sell a haul of rare gold coins that had been plundered through a series of illegal digs in Transylvania.
The coins are regarded by the Romanian authorities as priceless because of their historical and archaeological value.
They pre-date the Roman empire and were struck on the orders of a local leader, King Koson, to pay mercenaries to take part in a war.
But the war never took place and the gold coins were stored away around 42BC.
A large hoard of the coins was found by teams of sophisticated "treasure hunters", who used powerful off-roaders and advanced detection devices to launch a series of digs between 1996 and 2000.
The digs were illegal as they took place in a forested and mountainous area that has been declared by UNESCO to be a World Heritage Site.
The Romanian authorities became aware through intelligence that attempts were being made to sell off the coins through unsuspecting dealers in the United States and Europe.
Police forces co-ordinated their searches for the coins through Interpol and early last year gardai and the Romanians learnt that up to 1,200 pieces were to be sold here.
Although regarded as priceless by the owners, the Romanian state, the coins were being sold for between €800 and €1,000 each in Europe.
Gardai established that two of the coins were to be sold in central Dublin at an auction and were listed for sale for €330 each.
The Romanians believe that the sale was intended to test the market and establish the level of interest in the coins among potential buyers.
Officers from Pearse Street set up an investigation and when the coins were put on view, prior to the auction, they moved in and seized the two pieces.
They interviewed the auctioneer but there were no prosecutions.
However, the auctioneer later sought the return of the coins and the fate of the pieces was due to be determined by the District Court following an application under the Police Property Act.
The case was to be heard yesterday and the Romanians brought over their foremost expert in coins, Professor Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, who is director general of the Romanian national history museum, to give evidence.
But they learnt yesterday morning that the auctioneer was no longer contesting the case and the court determined that the coins should be handed back to the Romanian authorities.
Dr Oberlander-Tarnoveanu told the Irish Independent last night that the coins were in mint condition even though they were about 2,500 years old.
Romanian Ambassador Iulian Buga, who was formally handed the coins last night, paid tribute to the work done by the Pearse Street detectives and to the level of co-operation offered by the Irish authorities.