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Commit 2000 Robberies in Spain
by Luis Gomez in Madrid.
Translated by Herb Foerstel
El Pais May 7, 2000
Two thousand holdups are a lot of attacks; too many crimes, according to the accounting of the security forces who helplessly observe the seemingly unstoppable activity of the Balkan Gangs who spearhead the robberies of Spanish companies.
With respect to the perpetrators, it is known that none has spent more than a couple of days in jail. Strictly speaking, this is not a gang or a typical criminal organization. In the opinion of the police and the Civil Guard, the nucleus of this group is made up of Kosovo Albanians from the police and military of the former Yugoslavia, the majority coming from the province of Kosovo.
The group's organization, like its tactical operation, is military, and one suspects that they have financed the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
"They act with the effectiveness of commandos," acknowledges a spokesman for a private security company. They assault business establishments across the countryside. They carefully plan the strike; they act at night; they take the money from the safe ;they depart without leaving tracks and with virtually no witnesses. What is more, they leave their signature: a hole in the ceiling and the implements of robbery left behind, because they do not intend to use the same tools more than once. While there were ten holdups in 1995 and 25 in 1996, there were 160 in 1997, 626 in 1998 and no less than 918 the past year. So far this year they have already surpassed 2000 robberies.
An Authentic Epidemic
Hardly two weeks ago, the Government representative in Valencia convened a meeting of community business leaders to request their assistance. "We did not want to sound an alarm. We were going to send a letter to the businessmen, but we had the feeling that something more was required," recalls Carlos Gonzalez Cepeda, "because we had observed a significant increase in assaults on business establishments as of last summer. It was a very significant number that began initially in Valencia and soon spread to Alicante. All of them were robberies that shared similar characteristics: they were done at night, they entered through the tile roof, and they robbed the safes, very professional actions. It was necessary for the businessmen to take the situation seriously, and they adopted some minimal security practices in collaboration with the security forces."
One sees this emergency reflected in an instruction from the assistant representative of the Government in Castellano directed to those companies that complain of "frequent robberies" and speak of the need to raise a "comprehensive strategy" to prevent them. It was the unmistakable trademark of the Balkan gangs, made up of barely 500 men and women from the former Yugoslavia.
They live in several locations in Spain, primarily in Madrid, Tarragona, Valldolid, Galicia and Levante. They move all over the country to carry out their attacks. They are apparently integrated into the community, wearing designer clothes, enjoying a luxurious life style, living in good apartments, riding around in good cars and, in some cases, married to Spaniards. They demonstrate the physical capacity to perform military activities. They speak fluent Castilian and they do not have known criminal backgrounds.
They dedicate themselves to thievery; they have know-how and above all avoid all risk: usually they don't carry weapons and do not offer resistance to the authorities if caught in the act of robbery. They are advised by a bevy of lawyers and they know how to test the limits of the law. If they are arrested, they will be charged with attempted robbery and granted provisional release.
Photos of some 300 members of these groups are in police files. The police have initiated two operations against them: "Balkans I" on November 12, 1996 resulting in 46 arrests, and "Balkans II" in 1997, with about 90 arrests in Madrid, Barcelona and Germany. There is currently a "Balkans III" operation under way.
But the arrests have not brought any significant results, nor have they decreased the high criminal activity of the gangs, if one can judge by the statistics. It has amounted to little more than harassment. Their modus operandi leaves little doubt. They use rented cars for their criminal activities, preferably of the Citroen manufacturer (Xantia or Xsara) or Seat Cordova and a great variety of pre-paid mobile phones. For short stays they lodge in hotels or inns; if the work is of longer duration, they rent apartments. They buy the tools of their trade (maces, "goats legs," axes, saws, flashlights...), usually on the day prior to the operation. They will subsequently abandon them at the scene of the crime, so that one attack cannot be related to another by evidence at the scene. They wear dark glasses, knitted caps, gloves and sports footwear. Sometimes they protect their footwear with surgical footcovers. They enter through the ceiling, because they know it is the weakest part of a structure. They use ropes. They do not force the doors; they make holes until they break through to their objective.
The work is perfectly structured. One crew rents a nearby site, another gathers information about the target, and a third carries out the strike. They prefer to use Italian identity cards, easily obtained because they have a support network in Italy. "Others have obtained political refugee status in Spain, and even some of those have been falsified," say the Civil Guard.
Alarm systems at the targeted establishments do not seem to be an obstacle to the robbers, because they demonstrate prior knowledge of the facility. They know the general location of the terminals that connect the alarms with the electrical network. The use of radio-controlled alarms has had some success, but it is known that the robbers are beginning to use alarm deactivators, night viewfinders and other more sophisticated equipment, further evidence of their technical competence.
Each member usually carries several mobile cellular phones; they communicate frequently among themselves, but never repeat a call between the same cell phones. On the basis of the listings of their calls, it has been impossible until now to establish their organizational chart. And that is one of the genuine problems: the police do not know which individuals are in charge. "It is clear that they will designate a chief of a zone and a head of a given group in Spain, France, Italy or Germany, so we are dealing with problems on a European scale," explains a Captain of the Civil Guard, "but we do not know the identity of those in control." Indeed, the lack of identification of a head makes it difficult to treat this group like an organized band so that the case could be referred to the authority of the National Court and allow the use of more substantial methods to fight them.
A police source places importance on the group's military character:
A director of a security company comments:
They are vigilant. But they are not in hiding. In Madrid, it is easy to identify them...They let themselves be seen; they display themselves as extroverts, both at the bar La Pareda or when they throw expensive parties in a nearby square. From time to time, one is able to see them there.
"One day I observed some of them gather. And they lined up in front of one of them. They stood at attention! Clearly, that would have been a chief," recalled a member of the Civil Guard. Or better said, he would likely have been an officer. Because, no, they are not a band at all.
Booty of 4,000 Million
One estimate of the Civil Guard sets the amount of money obtained by these bands at almost 4,000 million pesetas, acquired primarily during the last two years. This money allows them to finance their high life style and the means of executing their robberies. Nevertheless, this is not the only use for the money. A good portion of it is sent outside the country, mainly to Germany, France and Switzerland, by means of legal companies, even though Post Office money orders that do not exceed a million pesetas. "At times, the money transfers were accomplished by sympathetic Spanish friends of the members of the organization, who use their authentic DNA," said one knowledgeable official. There is some conjecture about the destination of the illegal funds. One hears much about the financing of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), but, as with other details, the information is still inadequate.
What is the future of the group's activities? The possibilities are not very encouraging. As of the moment, these groups have not been connected to other types of crime, be it drug trafficking, money laundering or the business of extortion, but it appears that they tried it in France not long ago. However, there is evidence indicating a tendency to diversify their criminal activities in anticipation of encountering more difficulty with their current targets within the business community.
"It has been observed that after the robbers have been frustrated in some actions, upon finding no money in the safe because the businessman had been warned, these gangs have extended their activity to banks and vaults," warned one informant from the Civil Guard. They are beginning to invest in prostitution establishments "that provide them with cover," adds a police spokesman. And lately they have contracted Spanish citizens for their intelligence work or for the rental of cars and apartments.
Six months ago, El Pais was the first major publication to report the press conference of Spanish forensic experts who disputed NATO's claims after being sent to Kosovo to find proof of genocide against Albanians. The El Pais article was translated and sent out on the Internet by www.emperors-clothes.com . From the web the story was picked up by major newspapers.
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