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Copper heists driven by rising prices

Firms have been warned to keep a close eye on copper Keystone

Soaring copper prices are being blamed for a series of thefts across the country that have prompted police to urge firms to step up security.

This content was published on May 2, 2006 - 21:50

In the latest incidents more than a metric ton of copper disappeared in separate raids in canton Valais. Businesses have been warned to store the metal inside premises and set up video surveillance and alarm systems.

It is thought that the stolen copper is being shipped abroad or sold to recycling yards where it fetches up to SFr9,000 ($7,234) a ton – three times the price of four years ago. Metal recycling firms are also being targeted.

"We have a real problem in Switzerland at the moment," Gilles Goutte, president of the Swiss Iron and Metal Recycling Association, told swissinfo. "We are increasingly worried, especially since hearing that a recycling depot in France was recently held up at gunpoint."

According to police, copper thefts have been on the rise since 2004. Last year in cantons Aargau and Solothurn alone thieves made off with more than 40 tons of copper worth SFr120,000.

Three weeks ago thieves struck for the third time this year at an electricity company in canton Graubünden in eastern Switzerland, making off with 280 metres of copper cable, weighing around two tons.

Western Switzerland has also seen its fair share of copper heists: three tons disappeared in January from a depot in canton Valais. Cantonal police say around 15 tons of copper and other metals were stolen last year.

Metal trade

Danielle Bersier, spokeswoman for the Federal Police Office, told swissinfo that there had been a noticeable increase in copper thefts over the past year. She said, however, they appeared to be the work of independent operators rather than organised crime.

"There have been several cases but it's too early to say whether this increase in thefts will persist," said Bersier.

The Iron and Metal Recycling Association has set up a hotline to alert its 110 members each time there is a new incident. According to Goutte, two tons of aluminium bars were snatched in Graubünden on Monday and all members are now on the lookout for them.

"The problem is not only copper: other types of metal are being taken, stainless steel, aluminium," he said. "But everyone knows the value of copper and that's why they go for it."

The association has asked members to report suspect deliveries and it says the police have received several tip-offs as a result. But Goutte said some thieves were mixing copper with other metals, making it impossible to recognise stolen material.

A similar wave of thefts fuelled by booming scrap metal prices has also been witnessed across much of Europe. In Britain a number of bronze sculptures, including a huge Henry Moore statue worth £3 million, have vanished.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

In brief

Three-month copper futures on the London Metal Exchange last week hit $7,385 per metric ton – the highest point since the metal was first listed in 1877.

Prices have risen nearly 50 per cent since the start of the year and are up over fivefold from lows in 2001. The copper surge has been driven by strong demand and tight supply after years of underinvestment in new mining projects.

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Key facts

Members of the Swiss Iron and Metal Recycling Association pay SFr7-9 a kilo for copper, depending on the grade.
Prices have risen threefold since 2003.

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