Thirty-seven people were arrested in Bulgaria as part of a two-day operation in 17 European Union countries against organised metal thieves who operate all over Europe, and to the many scrap yards that accept all kinds of metal with “no questions asked”, European police agency Europol said.
The operation, which saw Belgian Federal and Judicial Police as the main driver, took place on May 27 and 28, and was the result of an initiative launched during a meeting at Europol at the end of April this year. During the action days cross checks were made in real time with Europol’s databases.
In Italy more than 120 tons of copper was confiscated. Fines were also issued for receiving stolen goods and violation of environmental regulations.
“There are many organised crime groups involved in the large-scale theft of metals,” said Europol director Rob Wainwright.
“They and the scrap dealers who buy copper cable stolen from railway tracks or plaques from gravestones, now realise that this kind of cross-border crime is being taken seriously. The crime often affects critical transport, communication and power networks, causing considerable disruption, and the costs associated with replacing and repairing the damage caused often exceeds the value of the metal stolen,” Wainwright said.
The countries that participated in the co-ordinated operation were Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden.
Law enforcement authorities carried out checks at scrap yards, on construction sites, along border roads and railway tracks. Specific scrap yards suspected of handling stolen goods were also controlled.
Intelligence shows that stolen metal is often transported across several borders and sold as scrap, or for recycling, far away from the scene of the crime. Intelligence gathered during this week’s action days will now be further analysed by Europol in order to pinpoint the main modus operandi and the people and gangs involved in this illegal trade, Europol said.