One of the largest pickpocket gangs worldwide has been identified by Greek police making the case one of the most successful crackdowns on street crime to date.
The most recent operation by Greek police saw 31 criminals rounded up from the wider Athens and Piraeus area, however, according to authorities 18 gang members are still believed to be at large.
The criminals worked shifts and even employed teams of runners robbing tourists visiting crowded sites and the county’s main attractions, especially in Athens.
They also targeted the elderly and people with mobility issues and other disabilities.
In Athens takings from robberies exceed €3,500 (AUD$ 5,238) a day with public transport the main target as gang members used props including newspapers and maps as decoys as revealed by CCTV footage and witness testimonies.
Meanwhile, a minimum of three people would distract a potential victim before another gang member skillfully robbed them passing the goods to another individual.
The criminals, most of whom have been identified as Albanian citizens including a female that appears to be the gang leader, admitted using false identification to get burner phones and tip each other off regarding police whereabouts. Among those arrested, was a former Greek police officer who played a key role providing protection and leaking valuable police intelligence to the criminal network.
“Police are telling us that since the arrests, there have been much fewer cases on metro, train and bus lines. This has long been a problem and we have taken a big step forward in tackling it,” Alternate Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection Nikos Toskas said.
“We have 52,000 police nationwide and 16,000 in Athens, and have increased patrols in tourist areas dramatically,” the minister said.
“Street crime and pickpocketing are linked to the crisis that has hit our country and just as we have done with bank heists and supermarket robberies, we are determined to deal with it once and for all.”