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Operation Lightyear: Gang that raided toy shops in Malaga and across Spain over four-year period is finally busted

The thieves would enter the shops and one would hide until closing time, before stealing all the cash left in store safes and fleeing via the emergency exit

SUR

Malaga

Wednesday, 17 April 2024, 16:04

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Police have busted a gang of thieves that targeted toy shops throughout Spain including Malaga province.

National Police arrested six people for their alleged involvement in 14 thefts committed between 2020 and 2024 in the provinces of Zaragoza, Madrid, Granada and Malaga.

Police launched an investigation, codenamed Operation Lightyear, in November 2020 following two incidents in the Puerto Venecia shopping centre in Zaragoza. They were both carried out in the same way where the thief would gain access to the store while it was open and hide inside until closing time, forcing their way into the safe and stealing cash. Initial investigations revealed the suspects were part of a crime ring based in Madrid, but operated throughout the country.

Police attributed 14 thefts to the group, with 11 of them committed in toy shops. The crimes were carried out during Christmas retail campaigns where they stole almost 150,000 euros from store safes, according to investigators.

Locate a hiding place

In groups of two or three people, they would enter the selected shop near to closing time, providing mutual cover so as not to be detected by shop assistants. Once inside the premises, the leader of the group, wearing a mask to avoid being identified, would locate the ideal hiding place, according to investigators.

Once the store had closed its doors and the shop assistants left, the suspect would emerge from the hiding place, and with a rucksack containing all the necessary tools, searched for and broke into the safe. Once they had stolen the cash they would leave via the emergency exit, according to investigators.

The main suspect, who turned out to be a person well-known to police with an extensive criminal record, used a very distinctive mask to cover his face during the thefts, with which he managed to avoid identification, police said.

The suspects, all from Madrid, were eventually identified and arrested on 21 March. Police raided the home of the gang leader and seized tools such as lock picks, signal blockers, tracking devices, microphones, and more than 5,510 euros in cash.

In addition to the thefts, the alleged gang leader is also accused of money laundering through the purchase of vehicles, some of them considered to be "top of the range", which he put in the name of third parties. The investigation is still ongoing with further arrests not ruled out.

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