HomeNewsBriefChile's Copper Robbing Epidemic Likely Fueled by China Demand
BRIEF

Chile's Copper Robbing Epidemic Likely Fueled by China Demand

CHILE / 23 JAN 2020 BY CHRIS DALBY EN

The seizure of tons of stolen copper near Santiago, Chile -- set to be sent illegally to China -- suggests that increasingly daring robberies may be fueled by the Asian powerhouse's thirst for the mineral.

During an operation on January 13, over 50 tons of copper cables were seized from a company in Lampa, north of Santiago, with an estimated value of $250 million, Chile's investigative police (Policía de Investigaciones de Chile - PDI) announced on Twitter.

The copper was to be smuggled to China as shown by falsified documentation found during the raid, PDI detective Jorge Sánchez told the press.

SEE ALSO: Chile News and Profile

This is but the latest in an increasing string of copper thefts throughout Chile, the largest copper producer in the world.

In October, over 10 tons of stolen copper, worth an estimated $55 million, was recovered by police near Antofagasta in northern Chile, the local Attorney General's Office announced.

More daringly, the country has also seen a number of attacks on trains carrying copper extracted from remote Chilean mines in the Andes or the Atacama desert. In 2015, just one attack on a copper train was reported but this shot up to 46 in 2018, railway company Grupo FCAB told Bloomberg.

Chile created a special police unit in February 2019 dedicated to fighting copper theft. "They (the gangs) can attack a train anywhere simply by placing obstacles on the tracks. They climb up, cut the supports holding the cathodes and load them up onto trucks specially adapted to take the weight," the unit's director Luis Millapán told Bloomberg. "They use high-frequency radios and special clothing to withstand the frozen temperatures of the desert and they know the area like the back of their hand."

InSight Crime Analysis

The discovery of a China-bound shipment of contraband may provide a missing piece to reveal the full picture of Chile's copper theft puzzle. There is no evidence currently linking China to Chile's other copper robberies but the country has a track record of soaking up global copper production, both legally and illegally.

China is Chile's main trading partner and copper made up 76 percent of the South American's country exports to China in 2018, although Peru now leads the list of top providers.

In 2015, China received over $50 million worth of copper concentrates from Peru which, while legally mined, contained arsenic levels above China's own legal norms, Metal Bulletin announced.

In 2017, China was embroiled in a diplomatic standoff with Zambia after 31 Chinese citizens were arrested in the African country for illegal copper mining, Reuters reported. This was just one in a string of incidents surrounding Chinese investment in Zambia's copper industry, according to Quartz.

And trade frictions may also be contributing to an increase in illegal copper from Chile to China. In 2019, trade frictions led exports of copper cathodes between the two countries to drop by 20.7 percent, Chile's undersecretary for international economic relations, Rodrigo Yáñez, told China's state-owned press agency, Xinhua.

China has also been cracking down on imports of copper scrap, partly to protect its own domestic copper industry, and to receive only high-quality copper material from abroad, which is also likely driving up demand for the illegally sourced metal.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

CHILE / 24 JAN 2022

After seven years in action, Chile's hardline strategy to rid the country of microtrafficking has been exported abroad, lauded as…

BRAZIL / 11 AUG 2021

A number of recent raids have highlighted how illegal pesticide smuggling in Brazil is fueled by Chinese contraband.

CHINA AND CRIME / 10 NOV 2021

A Peruvian governor is accused of receiving bribes to provide concessions to Chinese firms that trafficked illegal wood – an…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…

WORK WITH US

Work With Us: Research Internship and Editorial Internship

31 OCT 2022

InSight Crime, a think tank dedicated to the study of organized crime and citizen security in the Americas, is seeking interns and investigators to join its dynamic, multinational team.