In Brief

Chilean ‘tourist burglars’ ransacking UK homes

More than 70 Chilean nationals arrested over raids in London and home counties

Police have exposed a criminal network in which burglars from Chile are flown into the UK to raid upmarket homes.

Since the start of “Operation Genie” last year, 75 Chilean nationals have been arrested for “ransacking houses across the home counties and beyond in a wave of ‘burglary tourism’”, The Times reports.

The Metropolitan Police launched the taskforce following a spate of meticulously planned burglaries in south-west London and Surrey, carried out by Chilean housebreakers under the direction of London-based bosses.

The intruders “carefully selected the homes they targeted, picking properties which were often empty and on the edges of parks or golf courses”, the BBC reports.

They would then scale low roofs or use garden furniture to access the first floor of the property, where they helped themselves to luxury items such as “designer clothes, handbags, jewellery and watches”.

The majority of the raids targeted homes in upmarket south-west London suburbs and affluent commuter towns close to the capital, but the gang is also thought to have struck as far afield as Wales and Somerset.

Operation Genie detectives, who tracked the movements of vehicles used by the suspects, found that the burglars would normally commit offences within a week of arriving in the UK.

At least some of the loot was later shipped back to South America. Detective Inspector Tim Court, who is leading the nationwide response, said that officers investigating the gang had intercepted boxes containing stolen jewellery worth “hundreds of thousands of pounds” destined for Chile.

The news “will raise questions over a lack of background checks in Britain”, says The Times. Like citizens of most Latin American countries, Chilean nationals do not currently need visas to enter the UK for visits of up to three months.

Inspector Ivan Villanueva, a senior officer in the Chilean capital of Santiago, said that Chilean gangs were connected to burglary sprees elsewhere in Europe and in North America.

“These are Chilean specialist criminals moving abroad to commit crimes,” he said. “They have identified that certain societies in Europe are more vulnerable to certain kinds of robbery.”

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