Airport Heist Shows Growing Audacity of Brazil’s Cargo Thieves

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Without firing a single shot, heavily-armed men disguised as police raided a São Paulo airport cargo terminal, making off with 720 kilograms of gold in two pickups while holding security guards hostage. The movie-like heist shows that Brazil’s recent efforts to crack down on cargo theft are still no match for the country’s most audacious gangs.

The eight men, dressed in black uniforms bearing the insignia of the federal police, drove into the terminal in broad daylight, stealing the $30 million cargo in less than three minutes, El País reported. The thieves held two guards at gunpoint while ordering other airport employees to load the gold into the trucks painted to resemble police vehicles.

It was initially reported that one of the guards had been kidnapped the previous day, along with six members of his family, and forced to divulge inside information about the location of the robbery. However, the guard later confessed to having been a knowing participant in the heist.

All of the hostages were released shortly after the operation. But police have yet to find any trace of the culprits, or the stolen gold.

SEE ALSO: Brazil Thieves Growing Bolder With Heavily Armed Robberies

“They were well-organized, with full security,” stated Joao Carlos Miguel Hueb, from the state department of criminal investigations. “This wasn’t their first robbery.”

This is the latest in a series of spectacular cargo heists by Brazilian gangs. In March 2018, five armed men stole $5 million in cash as it was being unloaded from a Lufthansa plane at São Paulo’s Viracopos Aiport.

In April 2017, Brazilian gang, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), were blamed for a $12 million armed robbery in which a dozen men attacked a transportation company with heavy weapons and explosives in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.

InSight Crime Analysis

This latest robbery has occurred just as rates of general cargo theft in Brazil are finally showing signs of improvement. But the security guard’s confession demonstrates the one weak link that allows thieves to easily access airport landing strips or company warehouses: a man on the inside.

Cargo theft is by nature a crime of opportunity. The importance of knowing where goods are going to be, at what time, means that cargo theft on any scale is a criminal practice that relies on insider information. São Paulo’s Public Security Bureau estimated in 2016 that 90 percent of cargo theft cases involved employee participation.

SEE ALSO: Cargo Theft is Big Business for Brazil Crime Groups

Armed raids on transportation companies surged in the country from around 2012, primarily driven by organized crime groups in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Although ambushes on freight trucks have made up the majority of cases, a small sector of highly organized thieves has launched increasingly audacious attacks in recent years, targeting private security companies specializing in the transport of valuable goods.

But while violent crime on the whole is on the rise in Brazil, cargo theft is dropping, if official figures are to be believed. Brazil’s justice ministry claims that rates of cargo theft fell by 38 percent in the first quarter of 2019, from a peak of 22,000 incidents in 2018. The decrease was attributed to the militarization of the security situation in Rio de Janeiro as well as improved security escorts by transport companies themselves.

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