They noticed him because of his watch. They watched him to find the moment when he left his tourist accommodation. And, when he did so, they took the opportunity to sneak into his room, quickly open the safe and take the object, valued at 400,000 euros. It is the same operation that a gang of thieves carried out in a similar way in exclusive establishments in Chiclana de la Frontera (Cádiz), Ibiza, Paris and Cannes. Until the Civil Guard and the French National Police have arrested them. They are a group made up of three men – an Algerian, a Frenchman and a Spaniard – who are blamed for a dozen robberies in luxury hotels in Spain and France. With their illegal activity they had accumulated a loot valued at 4.5 million euros, which has already been returned to its legitimate owners. Among them, the exclusive watch.
The first time that Civil Guard agents heard about these white-collar thieves was in August 2022. Several people then reported that they had been robbed inside the luxury apartments where they were staying in the Cadiz town of Chiclana. There, an operation began—called Blue Ebony—that allowed researchers to learn how the members of this group worked, using a very similar formula. And that he used false documentation: one of those arrested had up to nine different identities, which made it easier for him to go unnoticed in his movements. In several of them he accumulated different backgrounds. “Those false names and nationalities, their great mobility and their refined technique made them very elusive. It has not been easy to find them,” say sources in the case.
The system they ran was always similar. One of them, an Algerian national, was staying in the chosen luxury establishment. In the case of Chiclana, for example, it was a luxury five-star complex with exclusive apartments, in which it was ensured that the tenants would have high purchasing power. Together with his companions, he observed the tourists and chose possible victims, generally looking at their watches. The more expensive, the better. When they decided on one, they waited for him to leave his apartment. Then, the criminal used different techniques to sneak into the property and open the safe, an activity for which they had “special skill.” Meanwhile, another member of the group—generally, the one of Spanish nationality—acted as the victim’s shadow: he followed him to the restaurant, the pool, the beach or whatever his destination was. Using a earpiece or his mobile phone he was alerting of his movements. The third thief was also carrying out surveillance duties.
Investigators collected samples from the broken-in apartments and spoke to the people who had been robbed. The tests brought them closer to a possible itinerant international group that performed in different locations and that had established its base in Marbella. There, in an exclusive villa in a luxury development, the man of French nationality now detained lived. He did it with his wife “to give the impression that they were like any other family on vacation,” according to sources close to the investigation. The Civil Guard managed to arrest him in this house, where they found mobile phones and eight luxury watches stolen in four robberies perpetrated in Chiclana and a fifth in Ibiza. One of them, the most valuable, has been valued at 400,000 euros. They have all been returned to their owners.
Nine fake identities
The intervened documentation also allowed a giant step to be taken in the operation. It made it possible to identify the leader of the gang, of Algerian nationality but with up to nine false identities from countries such as Belgium, Germany, France and Spain. In Spanish territory, he had a criminal record for similar acts with some of those false names. The Civil Guard immediately informed the French authorities that the gang could also be operating in France and, together with Europol, they coordinated a joint operation.
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After learning their identities, French authorities ended up arresting the two members of the gang – a Spanish man residing in Malaga and another Algerian man residing on French soil – this past spring. They did it just when they had just committed another robbery in a luxury hotel near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. There they had stolen jewelry, silver objects and branded bags whose overall value exceeded 450,000 euros. They are also considered responsible for other robberies committed in robberies in Cannes and in the Parisian capital. In total, it is believed that they carried out 12 criminal actions in which they accumulated loot valued at more than 4.5 million euros. Both are in provisional prison awaiting extradition to Spain to be tried for the crimes committed.
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