SANTIAGO –Around the world, organized groups of Chilean thieves make headlines, entering countries on tourist visas and robbing houses and vehicles. In some cases, the gangs stole goods worth millions of dollars. The phenomenon of Chilean “tourist burglars” has alerted authorities and Chilean embassies.
A “burglary syndicate” in Australia and a “break-and-enter-ring” in Canada. “A growing problem” in California and “a criminal gang” in London. In the latest of an ongoing of series of reports on the phenomenon of Chilean “burglar tourism”, a crew of Chileans were arrested in Simi Valley, California for burglaries on houses and vehicles.
The arrest coincided with what the FBI calls “a growing problem”: Chileans entering the country as tourists on a temporary visa and forming criminal gangs, responsible for burglaries throughout the United States.
Southern California was called “a hot zone”, but similar crimes committed by Chilean “tourist burglars” were reported in the states of Texas, Arizona, Colorado and New York, causing counties to send out warnings to its residents over these Chilean gangs and having the FBI working intensively with representatives in Santiago.
The thieves, all on temporary visa, formed part of a ring of Chilean burglars that targeted homes, businesses and cars in Los Angeles and nearby counties.
But even worse for the image of Chile and Chilean tourists is that this phenomenon appears to occur all over the world. Over the last years, incidents were reported in countries such as Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
Hundreds Of Burglaries, Millions Of Dollars Of Damages
In April 2018, 14 Chileans forming part of an organized gang were arrested in Toronto, Canada, and held responsible for over 400 burglaries in the area, with damages totaling up to US$ 2 million dollars. 12 of these Chileans had been arrested previously in the same area, for the same crime and had managed to get back to Canada using fake identifications.
In last year’s December, eight Chileans were arrested in Australia for stealing from houses and shopping centers across Sydney and Melbourne. In their “spree of 80 aggravated break and enters” they were accused of having stolen over US$ 800,000 dollars’ worth of items.
Flying In Burglars To Europe
And in Europe, Chilean burglars damaged the name of Chile in various countries. In August 2018, the London police announced that they had arrested a criminal gang consisting of nearly eighty Chileans after years of investigations, in which the police worked with the Chilean embassy in order to identify criminals. According to the BBC, the gang “was flying burglars from Chile into the UK to target wealthy homes in the South East”.
The gang targeted, just as in Canada, the U.S. and Australia, the wealthy houses for the luxury goods and shipped these goods to Chile. In the U.K. case, more than US$1,2 million dollars’ worth of items were stolen.
Taskforces Targeting Chileans
The same way of operating was reported in the Netherlands, where Chilean burglars were flown in to target wealthy houses in expensive Amsterdam neighborhoods. According to Dutch media, the national police is now working with Europol (an organization of European police forces) to tackle the ongoing problem with Chilean burglaries, as Belgium, France and Spain are experiencing the same problem.
In Canada, Chilean “crime tourism” has become such a major problem that the police has started a taskforce to battle these crimes. According to an agent that forms part of this taskforce, the arrests made by countries are just “the tip of the iceberg”.
A phenomenon damaging Chile, Chileans abroad and possibly even the tourist visa regulations. “Burglar tourism” is not only doing damage abroad – it could result in problems for Chileans themselves.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and made appearances on BBC World Services and ABC News during major events in Chile.