Thieves target scrap-yards as metal prices soar

25th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

LE HAVRE, France, April 24, 2006 (AFP) - Hold-up gangs in France have been targeting copper and nickel shipments, hijacking trucks and breaking into scrap-yards, hoping to profit as prices of metals soar to record highs, officials said Monday.

LE HAVRE, France, April 24, 2006 (AFP) - Hold-up gangs in France have been targeting copper and nickel shipments, hijacking trucks and breaking into scrap-yards, hoping to profit as prices of metals soar to record highs, officials said Monday.

Posing as police officers, a dozen armed men broke into a metal recycling plant in the north-eastern town of Reims last week, taking the director and his staff hostage, French legal officials said Monday.

The gang ordered a crane operator to fill two open-backed trucks with copper scrap, making off half an hour later with the booty — 40 tonnes of metal worth some EUR 200,000 euros.

Four thieves, also posing as police, commandeered two truckloads of nickel — 50 tonnes in all — near Le Havre in the north, in January and March, taking the drivers captive and releasing them near Paris.

Three lorries have also been hijacked in the northern Aisne department since November, each carrying more than 20 tonnes of copper.

French investigators believe soaring prices have made the metals choice targets for criminals — with cases of metal theft up 50 percent in the first quarter this year, according to the OCLDI specialist anti-crime agency.

Used for electrical wiring, mobile telephone components and plumbing, copper prices surged by 50 percent last year, to US$6,500 per tonne, driven partly by high demand from China.

Nickel has also jumped from US $5,000 per tonne in 2000 to a 10-month high of US $16,500.

Both metals are top of the gangs' hit lists, along with aluminium and inox, in every form from finished goods to scrap, which can be easily recycled, according to Colonel Philippe Schneiderm head of the OCLDI.

Operating across most of the country, the thieves are thought to sell on the metal through unscrupulous dealers and foundries.

Several big industry players have been affected, from the car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen to France Telecom and the SNCF rail operator.

Staff at a PSA site in eastern Sochaux recently made off with 12 tonnes of copper wiring, while five kilometres of high-voltage copper cabling vanished from the building site of a high-speed TGV train line.

Three men were arrested in the southern Hérault region last week as they were cutting up France Telecom telephone cabling.

Schneider said the gangs' methods demonstrated sophisticated operations such as impersonating police officers and taking hostages.

But Christophe Baulinet, of the federation of industrial minerals and non-ferrous metals, stressed that the problem, though on the rise, did not yet pose an economic threat.

In the case of copper, for example, the amounts involved are only a fraction of the country's annual production of 450,000 tonnes.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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