EU authorities bust major organised cargo theft group

An organised criminal group has been taken out of action following an operation conducted by law enforcement authorities in France, Germany and Romania.

The crackdown – backed by Europol and Eurojust – resulted in charges being levelled against 34 suspects, including 30 Romanian nationals. Gang members are accused of large-scale cargo thefts from lorries parked in motorway rest areas on haulage routes between Romania, Germany and France.

The group mainly targeted cargo shipments of alcohol, perfumes and other cosmetics and small electronics, stealing goods worth an estimated €2.5m ($2.8m) which were transported to Romania, and quickly sold via illegal trading circuits.

The criminals were engaged in legitimate road haulage work, which provided alibi for regular trips through Europe and helped them avoid suspicion as they identified and attacked target vehicles, typically by cutting open the tarpaulin covers of soft-sided trailers and then stealing the goods inside.

They would meet at preselected rest areas on French and German motorways, where they would then plan and commit their crimes, according to Europol.

The gang also regularly checked their vehicles for trackers and other means of criminal detection to try to evade law enforcement. In response, police turned in part to other technologies, including drones to assist with pinpointing the criminals.

The vulnerability of trucks in Europe – exacerbated by a lack of secure parking – is well established, although there was been a shift towards more thefts from warehouses and facilities during the pandemic as a result of lockdowns and the economic impact of COVID-19.

Latterly however the pendulum has swung back towards crime involving parked vehicles, exacerbated by increased requirements for trucks to stop at borders due to lockdowns, restrictions, and COVID-19 testing.

The European Commission recently introduced the Safe & Secure Truck Parking Areas (SSTPA) Standard to try to ensure a baseline level of security and safety at overnight parking sites.

The standard is due to become part of EU law through the EU Driving and Rest Time rules, part of the Commission's Mobility Package 1, which comes into full force next year.

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