Brazilian state approves bill to tackle cargo theft

João CaramezThe legislative assembly in Sao Paulo, Brazil, has passed a bill to tackle the massive problem of cargo theft in the state.

The bill (885/2009) - which now goes to the state governor for either signature or veto - introduces penalties for the sale or receipt of stolen goods including the cancellation of registration in the ICMS, a tax system governing interstate commerce. In effect, loss of registration means that a company is unable to operate and shut down. The bill also introduces fines equal to twice the value of the stolen products.

The bill's co-author, Representative Marco Aurélio, said the measure is designed to reduce the incentive for cargo thieves by making it harder to find partners willing to fence the goods. It was drawn up with the support of Brazilian cargo and transport union Sindivapa.

Cargo theft is a particular problem in Sao Paulo, which accounts for more than half (53 per cent) of all incidents across the country, according to figures obtained by the assembly.

João Caramez (pictured centre), chair of the assembly's Committee on Transport and Communications, noted there were about 15,000 cargo thefts throughout Brazil in 2012, of which more than 7,000 occurred in Sao Paulo.

"Approval of the law is important as it is not enough just to arrest the thief, receivers of stolen goods has to be punished as well because they encourage crime." he said.

Brazil has been a notorious hot spot for freight theft for years, and of late the criminals seem to focusing on high-value shipments and particularly pharmaceuticals, according to a recent report by cargo security specialist Freightwatch International.

The thieves have been hijacking trucks shipping medicines, taking advantage of dead zones with no cellular phone coverage and GPS jammers that interfere with tracking and monitoring systems. Increasingly the thefts involve violent hijackings, and are perpetrated by well-armed and organised criminals.

"Pharmaceuticals stolen in Brazil are often reintroduced into the marketplace through both legitimate stores and the black market," says Freightwatch, which expects the sector to come under increased risk of thefts as the country's $25bn pharmaceutical market continues to grow.

In the first 10 months of 2013 there were 229 thefts, with Sao Paulo accounting for around 60 per cent of the total, according to the report, which estimates the total value of goods stolen at around $442m.

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