Police in four countries made scores of arrests on Wednesday, after busting an international criminal gang who stole artefacts from Sicilian archaeological sites, the EU's police agency said. Some 25,000 objects, including ancient coins, statues and pottery, as well as fake artefacts, were recovered in the operation.

The pre-dawn raids on over 40 houses were the culmination of a four-year investigation led by Italy's Carabinieri art heritage police, Europol said. The group illegally exported many of the stolen artefacts to Germany, where they were granted fake certificates of origin and sold by auction houses in Munich, Italian police said.

Some of the 25,000 objects recovered included ancient coins, statues and pottery, as well as fake artefacts that were estimated to be worth over €40 million ($46.5 million). Police also seized some 1,500 tools used by the gang to illegally excavate archaeological sites in central Sicily where Greek and Roman artefacts can be found.

A total of 23 people have been arrested in relation to the gang, with eight in custody, seven under house arrest in Italy, and three subject to European arrest warrants in Germany, Spain and Britain. A 61-year-old Italian was arrested in Ehingen, in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, and €30,000 in cash was seized from his home. William Veres, a British art dealer, was served an international arrest warrant and was detained in London. Another Italian was arrested in Barcelona.