In the illicit copper market it is necessary to distinguish very well between those who steal and those who buy and then launder its origin and resell it. While the thieves of the precious metal are nothing more than small-time criminals who find the opportunity and ease of accessing unprotected facilities to take the copper with the minimum notions to avoid ending up electrocuted, those who buy play in another league. These are organizations with the capacity to set up and dismantle spaces in which they collect metal for three or four months that they pay at a good price because it is stolen, they export it camouflaged by road to the Eastern countries and, from there, they launder it. and they resell it again in Spain.

This is the reality that for years has been denounced by the Recovery Gremi de Catalunya, the association of companies in charge of collecting and reusing all types of materials, including copper. Its director, Victoria Ferrer, warns in conversation with La Vanguardia that the circumstance may arise that the copper that is stolen from railway facilities “will be bought again by Adif itself.” The legal purchase market for this material is very limited and is closely controlled by environmental and police authorities. The Mossos d’Esquadra carry out periodic inspections to identify the possible purchase of stolen material by companies that, despite everything, bypass controls and purchase knowingly of its illicit origin. The Mossos point out that fewer and fewer companies in the sector risk selling stolen copper.

In 2023, police inspections in these centers increased by 132%. 679 were made last year, which also meant an increase in complaints by 120% to waste managers. The inspection work is assumed by the regional administrative police units (URPA), specialized in the administrative inspection of public establishments and special regulation such as recycling centers and scrap yards.

Companies are obliged to inform the police every week of the copper and iron they have bought and from whom. Ferrer points out that this is a very exhaustive control, which the members of the sector assume as an obligation because they are aware of the responsibility they incur. “They know that if they do things wrong they risk it, even with their assets,” emphasizes the person in charge.

The Mossos admit that total control is very complex. Copper, once handled and without the plastic that covers and protects it, loses any element for its identification and origin.

The union also maintains that the Adif facilities where the copper cables are located present great insecurity and are very accessible. “These are facilities that must be better protected, just cut the fence with pliers to gain easy access,” he points out.

Ferrer points out that, as on other previous occasions, the new wave of thefts in railway facilities coincides with a better remuneration for copper, which at its destination (where it is recycled or reused) is paid at 9 euros per kilo. “This is a market with many and very rapid fluctuations, as can be seen in the London Stock Exchange,” adds the director of the union. The market, in addition, follows a price evolution that is very marked by the availability of copper in a global market, the limitations and restrictions imposed by conflicts, such as those in Ukraine or Israel, or expectations of greater demand. The fact is that there is more and more demand, but less production, which makes metal an increasingly valuable, precious and coveted object.