Twelve people have appeared in court to be sentenced for a series of high-value burglaries including the theft of “irreplaceable” books insured for £2m.
About 200 books were found buried underground in Neamt by Romanian officers on 16 September, the Metropolitan Police said.
They were stolen in January 2017 in what police described as a “highly sophisticated burglary” from a customs clearing warehouse in Feltham, West London.
It was one of a string of raids, including another burglary where 500 MacBook computers, 520 iPhones, 240 Samsung tablets and 400 iPads were stolen, with a combined value of £340,000, the court heard.
Works by Galileo, Isaac Newton and Francisco Goya were among the books stolen, and are considered irreplaceable and internationally important.
They were being stored in the warehouse ahead of being sent to Las Vegas for a book auction, but thieves cut holes into the roof and abseiled down to avoid sensors.
After finding the books, they packed them off in large bags and escaped the same way they came in, police said.
Officers suspected the thieves were part of a Romanian crime group that has been behind other high-value warehouse burglaries in the UK.
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The Metropolitan Police worked with the Romanian National Police and Italian Carabinieri to recover the books. Arrests and searches at 45 places in the UK, Romania and Italy were carried out in June 2019.
Detective Inspector Andy Durham, from Specialist Crime South, said: “These books are extremely valuable, but more importantly they are irreplaceable and are of great importance to international cultural heritage.”
The investigation continued and ultimately led officers to finding the book haul this month.
Due to be sentenced on Thursday are Gavril Popinciuc, Marian Albu, Paul Popeanu, Traian Mihulca, Vasile Paragina, Marian Mamaliga, Victor Opariuc, Daniel David, Narcis Popescu, Ilie Ungureanu, Cristian Ungureanu and Liviu Leahu.
They appeared by video link at Kingston Crown Court on Monday, having pleaded guilty to either conspiracy to commit burglaries, conspiracy to conceal and transfer criminal property, or both.
They carried out 12 “high-value and well-planned” raids between December 2016 and April 2019, mostly targeting premises holding hundreds of expensive items like smartphones and laptops, prosecutor Catherine Farrelly said.
The books stolen from Feltham were the “primary exception” to the group’s exploits, she said, because the items stolen were of “immense cultural significance”.
Four of the crime network flew into the UK from Romania, Farrelly said, before driving to the warehouse, cutting holes in the perimeter fencing and then cutting into the building’s skylights shortly after 9pm.
Daniel David and Victor Opariuc abseiled down, avoiding triggering sensor-based alarms, before taking the books, the court heard.
The books were stored in a rented house in Balham, south London, before Marian Mamaliga and Ilie Ungureanu arrived in the UK to pick up the stolen works and leave on the Channel Tunnel in February that year.
Eleven other burglaries, a number of which also saw thieves abseil down from the roof, were carried out by the group, with the goods stolen valued at about £2m.