Police in Spain, Romania and Portugal have arrested 42 people who are suspected of carrying out a huge pickpocketing and crime operation across Europe that netted them 1 million euros.
A statement from Eurojust said Romanians working in groups stole jewelry and watches from elderly Spanish citizens which were melted down into gold and silver bars. It was not clear how many of the 42 suspects were Romanians.
Romanian and Spanish officers searched 12 houses and seized 41,000 euros in cash, ten luxury cars and more than 400 luxury watches, jewelry and mobile phones, the agency said.
The organized criminal group initially operated in France and then moved to Germany, Italy and later to Spain, according to Eurojust, the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation. The agency helps coordinate cooperation between national investigating and prosecuting authorities.
The suspects used the so-called ‘necklace trick,’ where they approached mainly vulnerable, elderly persons and asked them for directions or help. As a sign of their ‘gratitude,’ they hugged them and simultaneously stole their watches or jewelry, before getting into a waiting car. The suspects occasionally used violence when victims fought back.
Spanish authorities received almost 6,000 complaints about the criminal gang in recent years. Spanish investigators found they had links to another Romanian clan, based in Spain, which transformed the stolen jewelry into gold and silver ingots which were then transported to Romania. The suspects are also suspected of money laundering.
Romanian investigators also conducted financial investigations, and froze assets and seized goods, as part of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), supported by Eurojust.
Europol provided analytical information for the investigation. The Spanish Policia Nacional worked with the Ialomita office of the Directorate of Investigation Organized Crime and Terrorism Offenses.