The five men who stood accused of the deed were found guilty by the Gotland district court and have been sentenced to up to a year in prison.
“This verdict is unique. It is the first time that anyone has been found guilty of aggravated crime against relics since the law was made more severe on these cases in 1991,“ said Marie-Louise Hellqvist of the County Administrative Board (Länsstyrelsen) to local paper Gotlands Tidningar.
In November last year the police recovered a silver treasure dating back to the 11th century stolen from a field in Gandarve, Alva on Gotland in 2009.
The treasure comprised over 2,000 silver coins from Germany, England and the Arab world and its value has been estimated at 1.2 million kronor ($198,181).
The county administrative board had discovered the unauthorized dig comprising 250 pits in a field in October 2009.
After a preliminary investigation silver coins and part of an 11th century crucifix was found in the ground near the looters’ dig.
Since traces of looters are usually rained or cleared away, it is often very difficult to both detect and solve these kinds of crimes.
The suspects were linked to the crime scene by the remarkable discovery of the broken crucifix.
Several days after finding the dig, an email was discovered by chance with a photo of a part of a crucifix up for sale.
It was sold to a man from southern Sweden and was later discovered in his home.
The trail led Police back to a well-known coin dealer in Stockholm. And during a raid on his property on Gotland, investigators came across muddy clothes, metal detectors, shovels, backpacks and a car especially equipped with night vision.
After examining computers and GPS equipment, police also found links between the defendants and two other places where looters had struck on Gotland.
Landowners in Sweden that discover ancient artefacts are awarded a finders fee in reward for turning them in to authorities. According to Majvor Östergren, archaeological administrator at the county administrative board, this is very important.
“Scientists from all over the world come to Gotland to study our findings,“ Östergren told daily Dagens Nyheter (DN) at the beginning of the trial.
The court found three of the defendants guilty of preparation of aggravated crime against relics and aggravated crime against relics. One man was found guilty of crime against relics and will have to pay a fine and the fifth man was cleared completely.
Prosecutor Mats Wihlborg is happy with the verdict.
“I am fairly content with the outcome. They were found guilty of the crimes they stood accused of and they will go to prison, even if it for a shorter sentence than I would have hoped for,” he said to local paper Gotlands Allehanda.
According to Marie-Louise Hellqvist of the county administrative board, Tuesday’s verdict is of significant precedential value.
“It is proof that we have been working in the right direction and it will have immense impact on the protection of ancient remains all over the country,” she said to Gotlands Tidningar.