South American organised crime gangs are travelling to the UK to burgle homes and are sending the multi-million-pound plunder back to Chile.
In the past two years, 75 Chileans have been arrested for breaking into affluent homes in suburbs across the country and Scotland Yard is actively seeking the UK-based leadership of the gang who is coordinating the criminal enterprise, according to a series of exclusive reports by The Times.
Police have arrested thieves following some 200 South American gang-related burglaries in counties in the commuter belt around London including Hertfordshire, Kent, and Surrey but also as far afield as Wales and in the south-west county of Somerset.
It is believed that a new crime gang is being sent to the UK every two weeks, with police gearing up for another series of raids as the coming winter allows the thieves to target homes under the cover of darkness.
There have been 36 arrests made so far this year, and the gang is believed to be active in other European countries such as Spain.
Inspector Ivan Villanueva, a senior police officer in Santiago, Chile, told The Times: “These are Chilean specialist criminals moving abroad to commit crimes.”
“They have identified that certain societies in Europe are more vulnerable to certain kinds of robbery,” he added.
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DNA from one burglar was traced to six other robberies across the country. When caught, the thieves are found without identification but the Chilean authorities have been assisting British police where it is found the suspects have criminal records in their home country.
The gang is also believed to be active in Canada and the United States, with The Times reporting that a corruption scandal where police are being paid to scrub criminal records for visa applications to North America was linked to the burglaries.
It is believed that the Chilean nationals — who, like nationals of several other Latin American countries, can travel as tourists to the UK visa-free for up to three months — meet an “embedded contact” in south London after landing where their identification is taken from them and they are handed a burner phone and a car before being dispatched to break into properties.
The thieves make off with jewellery and designer clothing and bags, with one robbery alone worth £400,000 ($514,000).
Police were able to put together the modus operandi of the gang after licence plate tracking had identified the gangsters’ vehicles returning to south London, from where police believe a “Mr Big” is operating.
Thieves who have been caught appear not to have given up the identity of Mr Big or any of his potential UK contacts.
In one case, four Chileans, Alexis Apablaza, 22, Angelo Bustamente, 34, Javier Kurte, 24, and Gustavo Ahumada-Paredes, 19, were arrested after burgling a home in Hertfordshire and gave no comment to police during their interviews. All four pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
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Detective Inspector Tim Court, who is heading the nationwide investigation, said the crimes represent “really sophisticated targeting”.
“The houses were often big, next to golf courses or parkland… We were seeing the burglars making use of garden furniture and tables or insecure ladders to break in on the first floor. They had worked out that lots of people put their alarms on the ground floor only,” he added.
It would appear that the stolen goods are not making their way onto the UK black market, with DI Court noting: “We put the message out to immigration and border force. The big question was ‘where is this stuff going?’ We intercepted a series of boxes going back to Chile. Hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of jewellery.”
Other international criminal enterprises are operating in the UK, with British and Spanish police busting a “voodoo” migrant sex trafficking ring in February where criminal gangs were kidnapping women in Nigeria and threatening to use black magic to control them.
Gangs in Britain are also becoming more sophisticated in their methods to sell drugs, with London dealers developing “county lines” to ship their product out of the city and across the country.