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Posted by portugalpress on February 09, 2017

In any country, statistically burglaries tend to be one of the highest reported crimes and also one of the most difficult to detect.

Provisional figures released by the GNR and PSP show that in 2016 there were 18,301 burglaries – 5,795 were reported to the PSP (who cover the major cities), representing a reduction of 10% compared to 2015, and 12,506 were reported to the GNR (who cover 94% of the country), a reduction of 7%.

Most reported burglaries occurred in Lisbon (2,986), Porto (2,813) and Faro District (the Algarve registering 2,085). Whereas Porto and Lisbon showed a decrease of 1.2% and 2.1% % respectively compared to 2015, the Algarve showed an increase of 21.8%.

Although being a victim of burglary or residential robbery is equally traumatic, there is a difference between the two. This feature is dealing only with burglaries, which are break-ins to properties normally when the occupant is absent.
Robberies – thankfully far less than burglaries – are break-ins when the threat of violence or actual violence is used.

There are many ways in which burglars can enter people’s homes. The opportunist will try and spot a vulnerable point such as a window left open, whereas others will be prepared to scale walls, break windows and doors. Most burglaries fall into this category.

Whatever the modus operandi used, criminals will look for high takings with low risk to themselves. It is not worth trying to circumvent an elaborate alarm system when it is likely there will be nothing worthwhile taking inside.

About six years ago, East European and Brazilian gangs targeted luxury residences in remote areas mainly owned by foreigners, extracting their bank pin numbers through use of violence or threats of violence. This is a high-risk crime and, through the good work of police, many were caught or fled the country. This is now a rarity.

Last year, however, was marked by a very different trend and that was the appearance of a network of assailants, known as “cells”, from South America, many of whom appear to be Chileans.

Their MO is to arrive in the country, target luxury homes and burgle them when the properties are empty. This requires them to monitor the properties beforehand, noting the security arrangements and any vulnerabilities, and ascertain the movements of the occupants to ensure it is empty when they break in. They then assess whether the risk is worth the takings they may find inside. Having stolen the items, these are quickly despatched overseas before the criminals leave the country themselves.

Clearly their work has been very professional and in one case they managed to steal around €12 million from the house of one of Portugal’s richest persons, in the north of Portugal.

Police sources have indicated that there may be as many as 100 operatives in Portugal divided into various cells. They cover the whole country and most have false identification papers/tourist visas. As such, when they are caught, they are difficult to identify. It is believed that the first cell was discovered by the PSP operating in Cascais in the summer of 2016. Apart from Chileans, Cubans, Argentinians and Colombians are allegedly involved.

Examples of South American gangs operating worldwide

Although Portugal is now feeling the effects of these South American gangs, they have operated for some years in many countries.

Canada – In 2015, in Toronto, police arrested a dozen Chilean nationals who entered with false identification and set up a “break and enter” business across the city. In fact, there were 15 of these people before three fled back to Chile one step ahead of detectives.

London – Also in 2015 it was reported that Chilean pickpockets had become the most effective thieves operating in central London. Gangs of up to six members followed wealthy shoppers in the West End before stealing their cash and belongings.

Organised international gangs of thieves spent a short time operating in London before flying to places such as Madrid, Barcelona and Milan for the same purpose – all as part of moves to avoid detection.

Spain – In a bizarre case, also in 2015, Spanish police broke up an alleged extortion ring run on mobile phones by four prisoners from a jail in the Chilean capital, Santiago.

The prisoners made cold-calls to random numbers in Spain and terrorised people by telling them they had kidnapped their family members. Around 160 complaints were received and around 10% of those called had paid up to see the release of their relatives. Most who had paid up were older people, police said, adding that some had handed over $12,000 (£8,200).

Earlier this month, it was reported by Europol that the Spanish National Police, supported by Europol and by the French and Georgian authorities, had arrested 61 members of a Georgian organised crime group specialised in burglaries.
Overall, 26 house searches have been carried out and €33,000, eight vehicles, 7,100 tobacco packets and many stolen pieces of jewellery have been seized.

And it is not just thefts. A few days ago, a drug bust in Arica, Chile, turned up more than $12 million worth of cocaine that was bound for Spain (Reuters).

Three suspected traffickers were arrested, two of whom are confirmed Spanish nationals. According to officials cited by Reuters, the anti-narcotics operation took place in the port city of Arica in northern Chile. The targeted drug gang was reportedly part of an international group of traffickers that was moving drugs from Colombia across South America to a final destination in Europe.

In Portugal

As has been widely reported, the GNR recovered on January 9 “several thousand euros worth” of watches, jewellery and other items that had been stolen in luxury homes, all over the country, by a gang arrested in Loulé, before the items were shipped to Chile and Italy.

The packages were retained at Lisbon Airport and when opened found to contain items including 190 pieces of jewellery, 50 watches, a collection of coins and 10 handbags.

In Cascais, nine Chileans have been taken into custody suspected of having carried out a number of burglaries in the area.

The Polícia Judiciária (PJ) announced on January 21 the arrest of three South Americans named as the “cell” of an international criminal organisation responsible for “millionaire thefts” in homes, namely those on January 18 in Porto and Gondomar. In their possession were large amounts of money, precious metal objects, false identification documents and tools used in the crimes, and the PJ proceeded to “suspend the posting of postal parcels abroad”.

In a statement, the PJ said that three men from South American countries, aged between 24 and 37, had been charged with crimes of criminal association and qualified theft in residence. Following the police intervention, the suspects were apprehended. “The suspects,” he said, “will be part of a broader international criminal group that will be dedicated to the commission of other crimes of this nature in various areas of the country.”

Europol analysis

According to Europol, organised property crime is often committed by highly-mobile organised crime groups that typically carry out a significant number of offences in a region over a short period before moving on.

As organised property crimes are often investigated in isolation at the local level, an analysis at the national level is often lacking, making these crimes harder to detect and to solve.

Of major concern to EU law enforcement is the increase in domestic burglaries attributable to itinerant crime groups originating mainly from South-eastern and Eastern Europe.

Estimates suggest one burglary is committed every 1.5 minutes in the EU, with some member states registering 1,000 burglaries every day. In Portugal last year it was 50 per day.

So what can we do?

Firstly, do not boast and display wealth in front of strangers, and that goes for Facebook, too, which criminals monitor! Secondly, keep an eye open for strangers who may be monitoring your home and that of neighbours. Report this to police, noting car registration numbers. Thirdly, make sure your contents insurance is up to date and, fourthly, follow the household protection crime prevention steps on our website.

By David Thomas

David Thomas is a former Assistant Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In October 2011 he founded Safe Communities Algarve an on-line platform here in the Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação SCP Safe Communities Portugal, the first national association of its type in Portugal, with a new website launched in May 2015. He can be contacted at, or on 913045093 or at



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