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Thieves steal metal for overseas sales

Date Posted: 2007-03-22

A rising construction boom in China, as that country prepares for the 2008 Olympics, has spawned a new market for thieves.

Metal products are being stolen across Japan and Okinawa, costing companies and taxpayers billions of yen. Okinawa authorities report 32 cases of metals theft worth ¥2.45 million in recent months. Business owners and government agencies are all telling stories about how everything from water faucets to light fixtures are disappearing.

The upcoming Olympics in Beijing has construction soaring, and rising metal prices have given thieves a new market. Officials say “these thefts have caused criminals to do lots of new things across Japan.” Since January, thefts include electric wires, children’s park slides, road handrails, railroad ties.

The market price for metals now exceeds ¥1 million per ton, up from only ¥200,000~400,000 in 2004. Electric wires are being stolen from construction sites, and even from utility poles. Thieves climb the poles, cut the valuable wire, and haul it away. Copper is a sought-after commodity for export to China.

Japan imports all copper used in manufacturing, and also exports about 90% of its copper waste to China. Officials say the costs of iron and stainless steel have also risen dramatically, as Beijing is a strong bidder for available supplies.

Police say both Chinese and Japanese are involved in the thefts, which have now extended to lamps warming flowers in Okinawa fields. Metals in 2006 thefts were valued at ¥2 billion, but that figure has doubled in only the first two months of this year. Onna Village and Uruma City have seen thousands of fixtures stolen, while Okinawa City reports gangster group Gyokuryuu-kai has been active. Miyako Jim City also reports theft of more than 1,300 pounds of metal disappearing from a construction site.

In Naha, the International airport parking lot has been stripped of roadside water fixtures. Police have recovered 43, and arrested the thieves. Special patrols are being instituted across Okinawa to guard against thefts.

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