SANTIAGO – Chilean police are investigating the participation of employees of the world’s largest copper producer, state-owned Codelco, in one of the biggest robberies of the mineral in the company’s history and worth some 45 billion pesos ($80 million), prosecutors said.
Detectives of the Criminal Investigation Brigade, or Biocrim, in the northern province of Chañaral, said that 20 people have been detained in the case.
The police unit said the robbery was perpetrated by personnel of the Santa Maria transport company when Codelco purchased copper from the private mining firm Escondida.
In the process of transporting the red metal, the trucks drove to an abandoned mine, where they broke through the locks and changed the material for low-grade copper ore.
The prosecutor of the city of Diego de Almagro, Pablo Silva, noted that once the high-quality copper was offloaded to other trucks, the original trucks were loaded up with a copper concentrate of lower quality than what had been removed, then continued on their original route.
While the trucks with the low-quality copper continued on their way to Codelco’s Potrerillos plant, the trucks loaded with the stolen material headed for the Enami national mining company in Copiapo, where the copper was sold in the name of the Asiar firm.
The trucks that reached Codelco managed to pass quality checks since employees of the contractor firm Ingecom assigned to do that job were in on the scam.
According to the investigation, between five and six trucks per day have been involved since 2011.
In a communique released Friday, Codelco said it will “undertake every action necessary to obtain compensation for the damage this fraud has done to our interests.”