(Rapaport...South China Morning Post) More than 100 international jewel thieves from South America are in Hong Kong, targeting the city's annual jewelry show, police say.
The warning came as police arrested nine South American men in connection with four separate thefts within a week. Four of the arrests came as the Hong Kong International Jewelry Show opened on March 6.
Crime syndicates from Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela are active both inside and outside the show at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, a police source said, adding that the suit-wearing thieves work in groups of three or four.
"Outside the venue, they target jewelry exhibitors moving packages of diamonds, pearls or other valuables from hotels to the venue," the source said. "They sometimes wait for their prey in hotel lobbies or coffee shops in Wan Chai, Central and Tsim Sha Tsui."
With security tight at the venue, plain-clothes officers have stepped up surveillance in coffee shops, hotels, ferry terminals and taxi stands across the city, the source said. "Their common tactics are simple. They steal unattended briefcases and bags while victims are having breakfast or having a drink in a coffee shop or restaurant," the source said.
"They also distract victims by spraying tomato sauce on their clothing or dropping bundles of banknotes on the ground before grabbing valuables and fleeing."
An hour before the opening of the jewelry show, three men from Chile were arrested for stealing a handbag from a tourist in a Tsim Sha Tsui coffee shop. It was the third arrest involving South American tourists within a week, police said.
However, no thefts have been reported from inside the venue of the jewelry fair. Senior Inspector Choi Sau-kuen, head of the Tsim Sha Tsui anti-opportunistic theft team, believes the three men arrested in Tsim Sha Tsui were international jewel thieves targeting exhibitors moving valuables to the Wan Chai venue.
"They were seen watching briefcases or bags carried by well-dressed passers-by near the Star Ferry Terminal at about 8:30 a.m.," she said. Officers said it appeared that they failed to find a target and left the area, followed by about 10 plain-clothes police.
The three men, between 23 and 42 years of age, were arrested after they allegedly stole a handbag containing a digital camera from an woman at a coffee shop in Tsim Sha Tsui at about 9 a.m. Police said the three men arrived in Hong Kong last month and left the city last week, before returning on Sunday. Last night the suspects were being held for questioning.
Last week two men from Chile were arrested for stealing a laptop computer from a salesman in a Starbucks in Sheung Wan, and three other men from Chile were arrested for snatching a handbag containing HK$2,000 from a mainland tourist in a Mongkok shop.
Police say the thefts may have been to cover the thieves' expenses during the jewelry show.
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