A UK court has convicted 14 people of plotting to steal rhino horns and Chinese artifacts worth nearly US$80 million from museums across the country.
The accused were senior members of an international gang of rhino-horn thieves known as the “Rathkeale Rovers”, British media reported.
Four of the so-called generals were convicted on Monday following a trial at Birmingham Crown Court, according to The Telegraph.
Ten men had previously been convicted of their part in the raids, the paper said.
Among those convicted of conspiracy to steal was Donald Chi Chong Wong, a Hong Kong middle-man who garnered orders for Far Eastern customers, The Independent reported.
Police were quoted as saying that the items stolen from museums may have fetched up to 57 million pounds (US$79.6 million) on the booming Chinese auction market.
The court heard how the gang targeted a string of museums which had rhino horn artefacts on display, in order to sell to wealthy Chinese buyers.
Powdered rhino horn is thought to be the most valuable commodity on earth and can fetch as much as US$70,000 per kilo in China.
Many UK museums removed rhino horns from display following a string of raids, but the gang simply targeted rare Oriental artifacts such as jade ornaments and vases instead, The Telegraph noted.
There were raids at the Norwich Castle Museum, an auction house in Lewes, East Sussex and the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow as well as those in Cambridge and Durham.
One Ming Dynasty bowl that was taken from in the Durham University raid was estimated to be worth as much as 16 million pounds, but was later discovered dumped on waste ground.
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