Crime does not pay for sure but the highly lucrative rewards available to cargo thieves are still the motivation behind major freight losses across the globe, with one of the latest high-profile crimes in Brazil netting $30 million in three minutes. But criminals beware! The government is closing in on you…

For companies blighted by the constant threat of cargo crime in Brazil, there have been many reasons to feel optimistic in recent months thanks to the unprecedented and proactive response of the country’s law enforcement agencies.

Brazil’s Minister of Justice, Sergio Moro, recently announced a 38% reduction in the number of freight vehicles stolen and cargo thefts in Brazil in Q1 2019 – to a total of 3,680. The fact that this still relates to an average of 40 attacks on cargo vehicles on every one of the 90 days in this period reflects the scale of the problem the police and private sector are facing.

Much of this crime reduction stems from greater integration of the work being conducted by different national security forces across the country, law enforcement interventions in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and improvements in the methodology to register cargo thefts as well as major investigations against criminal gangs, including those known to be specializing in cargo theft.

Despite the success of these initiatives, however, there remain constant reminders of criminal groups targeting the cargo industry – and July saw one of the biggest incidents ever recorded; a fast and audacious attack which earned the perpetrators a reported $10 million a minute!

The crime in question occurred on 25 July and took all of three minutes to complete.

According to media reports in Brazil, which filtered around the world, eight masked offenders impersonating police officers entered a cargo warehouse at Guarulho International Airport in Sao Paulo in an SUV and flatbed truck and used a forklift to load over 700 kilos of gold as stunned warehouse staff looked on. 180 seconds later they departed with bullion valued at $30 million, reportedly representing the second highest value heist in history in Brazil. The theft was also captured by the building’s CCTV cameras.

The gang are said to have changed vehicles twice during their escape and more recent reports from Brazil state that three people have been arrested in connection with the crime. The investigation is ongoing and the gold is believed to still be missing.

The family of an employee of one of the company’s responsible for the gold shipment, which was en route from New York to Zurich, were reportedly kidnapped the night before the incident, which led to the thieves being able to obtain the information they needed to facilitate the theft.

A media statement issued following the crime said no injuries were suffered during the raid and emphasised that the shipment was covered by insurance and customers affected by the incident would be fully reimbursed.           

Vigilant spoke to Fabio Barbosa, Director of Loss Prevention at ABINEE, the Brazilian Electrical and Electronics Industry Association, which is now engaging closely with TAPA to share incident intelligence and best practice, for his insight into the latest cargo crime trends in Brazil.

ABINEE is currently studying a way to consolidate the true loss value of cargo crime in Brazil to support the crime prevention efforts of the government and private sector. The electronics sector alone continues to suffer heavy losses due to the high value of products and the quick return available to criminals. It is engaged with other associations in the consumer, pharmaceutical, food, logistics, aviation, chemical and tobacco sectors, who are now actively participating as guests at ABINEE meetings.

He is quick to recognise the very welcomed response of the country’s law enforcement community, stating: “This is having a positive impact. Never before have we seen such effort to combat cargo theft. Minister Sergio Moro understands that cargo theft is responsible for funding criminal rings, so he wants to tackle their cash cow.”

New partnerships signed between individual states in Brazil is making it easier to exchange intelligence reports and is leading to joint operational support. Minister Moro has also reopened the Cargo Theft Steering Committee and invited the teams of stakeholders, including the private sector, to help develop new laws and to share intelligence and best practice.

When a new government bill is approved, resellers of stolen goods will also face sentences of between three and eight years.

One of the challenges to be overcome is that of cross-border crime with stolen goods such as consumer products, electronics and metal already having been traced to other South American countries. Companies, however, can do more to protect their supply chains through more resilient due diligence checks on their vendors as well as in creasing their knowledge of known risks. 

Despite the public setback suffered as a result of the latest bullion heist, ABINEE says it expects cargo theft incidents in the second half of the year - traditionally higher than the first half – to also shown an overall reduction in 2019.

So, while major losses still grab the headlines, companies across the country – and those overseas which do business in Brazil – can be assured that the government efforts to tackle cargo crime are gaining in momentum and delivering tangible results. Long may that continue.