South American gangs target New Zealand

The United States isn’t the only country being targeted by South American gangs. In New Zealand, a South American organized crime ring is believed to be responsible for recent art thefts in the city of Queenstown, the New Zealand newspaper, the Otago Daily Times, reported. Police say an arrest is still a long way off.

More than $50,000 in jewelry was taken from a locked display cabinet in a Queenstown hotel in April, the newspaper reported. In addition, two jade sculptures worth more than $90,000 were taken during a smash-and-grab raid on the Opal Centre in May, and five large artworks valued at $3,300 were stolen from another Queenstown hotel in late May.

Queenstown CIU Detective Sergeant Grahme Bartlett said local police had worked with Interpol and South American police forces to develop a better picture of who they were looking for.

While more information had been gathered about the groups, he admitted police were no closer to recovering the stolen items. Working with the international police forces had also brought them up to speed with current trends and the groups’ method of operation, he said.

“They’ve [the criminals] been doing it overseas for several years and they’re clearly heading this way and spreading their area, Bartlett told the newspaper. “It’s difficult to say how many groups have been working here, but probably two.”

The aim now was to work out where each group had been in April and May, to try to eliminate some of them from the inquiries, Bartlett told the newspaper. “Hopefully, we can eliminate some and focus on others.”

Two South American men had been arrested in the New Zealand cities of Wellington and one in Omarama, but had not been charged with the art thefts, the newspaper reported. The two were deported.