Gangs of the Golden Triangle: Chilean burglars have terrorised the Home Counties for years but now they are flying into Britain with a new target – Cheshire’s wealthy footballer belt. So why DO we let them in?
- Joel Enrique Ureta, Nicholas Oviedo and Jamie Duarte Vera burgled in Cheshire
- The ‘burglary tourists’ targeted Wilmslow, Alderley Edge and Prestbury areas
- A £1.8 million house was broken into and £25,000 of jewellery was stolen
Back in June 2015, Jamie Duarte Vera was part of an armed gang who battered their way into a motorway toll booth in Chile, terrorising the attendant and fleeing with £16,000 in cash.
The men were arrested following a police chase, the moment of their detention — face down on the ground, hands manacled behind them — captured in a photo published in a national newspaper.
Not long after Vera’s release from jail, he decided to take a holiday. His destination? England. Or, to be more precise, Cheshire.
So what attracted the convicted criminal to leave his wife and four children at home and travel 7,500 miles across the Atlantic?
A £1.8 million house belonging to Andrew Anson, chief executive of the British Olympic Association, was broken into and ransacked, and jewellery worth £25,000 was stolen
Fast-forward almost exactly five years from that Chilean smash-and-grab, and last week the answer to that question was carefully spelt out at Chester Crown Court.
Arriving in Britain last autumn, he and a number of his compatriots proceeded to target the ‘Golden Triangle’ area of Wilmslow, Alderley Edge and Prestbury, home to multi-millionaires including footballers from Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City.
Quite simply, Vera wasn’t here for a spot of sightseeing — he and his gang were what is known as ‘burglary tourists’.
And in the run up to Christmas, when they knew houses would be full of lavish gifts, they broke into five homes — a spree that saw them steal or damage items worth £170,000.
Watches, jewellery, designer sunglasses and luggage were taken. Some of the stolen goods were sewn into the lining of clothing which was then shipped back to Chile.
Joel Enrique Ureta (pictured) and brothers Nicholas and Alexis Oviedo broke into seven houses in 11 days, stealing goods worth £118,000 and leaving a trail of terrified homeowners in their wake
For their victims, the impact of the raids can be measured not only in financial loss, but in lasting psychological damage.
Among them was former Manchester United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, who was away from home but watched in horror as the break-in was streamed live via CCTV to his smartphone. The burglars then had the audacity to return a week later to have a second go.
It was during this second raid that police swooped. As in Chile, Vera’s arrest and that of a fellow gang member were captured on film — this time via a camera in a police helicopter.
‘These were targeted, professional, sophisticated offences committed by determined criminal burglars,’ said Judge Simon Berkson as he jailed the pair for a total of seven years.
And they were not alone. Yesterday, a second gang of Chilean burglars was jailed at the same court for more than 13 years for targeting wealthy homes in the same area.
Joel Enrique Ureta and brothers Nicholas and Alexis Oviedo broke into seven houses in 11 days, stealing goods worth £118,000 and leaving a trail of terrified homeowners in their wake.
And, as the Mail reveals today, what will add insult to their injury is the fact that members of both gangs had lengthy criminal records in Chile, where they had served time for offences including theft, robbery and burglary.
Yet they were able to waltz into Britain to carry on their nefarious activities. Why the authorities allowed this to happen is a mystery.
Because, while the Cheshire raids represent the first time that Chilean burglars have targeted this wealthy corner of the UK, their activities in the South-East of England have been keeping police busy for the past three years.
Indeed, police have revealed that no fewer than 300 criminals from the South American nation have been arrested.
Chilean Jamie Duarte Vera and Jorge Pinto Vallejos were caught on CCTV and sent to jail for burglaries in Cheshire
In that time, this newspaper and others have repeatedly highlighted the fact that these visiting burglars often have criminal convictions either in their home country or elsewhere in Europe.
Yet they are allowed to travel here as tourists, without a visa — or, seemingly, any background checks. (The UK sets its own visa policy for countries outside Europe, so Brexit will not affect its existing travel arrangements with Chile.)
As Tory MP Esther McVey, whose Tatton constituency includes some of the houses targeted, said: ‘This is clearly not acceptable and the Home Office needs to ensure people are properly vetted before they are allowed to enter the country. My constituents — and others around the country — are needlessly becoming victims of crime.’
The emergence of this new regional front in the battle against Chilean burglars was first flagged up to police across the country through Operation Opal.
Opal is a national intelligence unit that specialises in serious organised acquisitive crime, linking investigations with common methods or suspects.
The Metropolitan Police were at the forefront of the fightback, launching a targeted operation after noticing a spate of similar break-ins.
The properties involved were large and in affluent areas of South-West London and Surrey, bordered by open land or golf courses.
Once inside, the thieves would steal high-value items such as designer clothes, handbags, jewellery and watches.
Using automatic number-plate recognition technology, police were able to identify vehicles in the vicinity at the time of the crimes.
They identified the burglars’ cars, noting that the crooks tended to converge in South London, where they believed the gang leaders were.
Then, in 2018, a crate destined for Chile and full of jewellery and other items, including a £100,000 Franck Muller watch, was intercepted at Heathrow.
As suspects were gradually arrested, the Chilean link fully emerged, including how ‘foot-soldiers’ would be flown over to carry out the crimes.
In total, millions of pounds’ worth of valuables have been stolen. Victims include celebrity chef Marcus Wareing, who lost jewellery worth £33,000 from his London home.
In December 2018 and January 2019, police in the North-West noticed striking similarities behind a string of high-value burglaries in Cheshire. Their inquiries would lead to the arrest of the two gangs.
Nicolas OviedoCarrasco Oviedo became a Chilean citizen, but was born in Argentina. He played as a soccer player in the Trasandino de Los Andes soccer team until the end of 2018
First up was Vera and 27-year-old Jorge Pinto Vallejos.
On Saturday, December 28, 2019, at around 7pm, an alarm was activated on a house in Prestbury belonging to former Manchester United keeper Tomasz Kuszczak.
A police helicopter was scrambled and spotted the men trying to escape.
After their arrest, detectives established forensic links with further crime scenes and analysed mobile phone data. This linked the men to at least five burglaries in Alderley Edge, Prestbury and Wilmslow.
Investigations established the two men had arrived separately in September and October 2019, telling the authorities they were here for a ‘long holiday’. Chileans do not need visas to enter the UK for visits of up to six months if they are here as a tourist. According to Chilean police they were following what is becoming a well-trodden path to Britain — and potential riches.
‘In recent years, the pyramid of this entire criminal underworld is made up of burglars, and at the top of it are international burglars,’ Claudio Baez, a sub-commissioner with the Chilean police, who specialises in international crime, told the Mail.
‘The bounty is so great that they make it in a short time with just one trip. After all, they are part of the jet-set.’
Travelling to Europe, they are supported by other Chilean criminals already living there, and are often put up in casas de seguridad, or safe houses.
Inquiries in Chile have established that Vera served 20 months in jail for the armed toll booth raid. He also has convictions for burglary, going equipped for burglary and drink-driving. According to Chilean police, Vallejos has a 2017 conviction for theft.
Once in Britain, the pair based themselves in a flat in Manchester and, along with two unidentified accomplices, set out to burgle the homes of the rich and famous.
Jamie Duarte Vera, 40, ransacked houses in Alderley Edge and Prestbury in the weeks running up to Christmas last year
The first raid took place on a four-bedroom house bordering National Trust land in Alderley Edge. The owners returned to find their house ransacked, and cash and jewellery missing
The following night, a £2 million property in Prestbury was broken into. Stolen items included electrical goods, jewellery, key fobs for a Range Rover and a Patek Philippe watch valued at £28,000. The total loss was put at £44,000.
A couple of days later, the burglars targeted Mr Kuszczak’s house for the first time.
The footballer and his family were on holiday, but he watched the Chileans ransacking his home live via a security app on his mobile phone.
CCTV showed a four-strong gang, their faces covered, dragging a safe weighing almost 16 st into the garden to steal jewellery, diamond earrings, a bracelet and a Gucci watch, all worth around £80,000.
After a break for Christmas, on the day after Boxing Day, a £1.8 million house belonging to Andrew Anson, chief executive of the British Olympic Association, was broken into and ransacked, and jewellery worth £25,000 was stolen.
Jewellery worth £25,000 was stolen from Andrew Anson’s, chief executive of the British Olympic Association, home
In a statement read to court, Mr Anson said: ‘Seeing the complete lack of respect people treat your house with — smashing property, throwing things around — makes you feel annoyed and vulnerable.’
Within hours, the burglars had struck at another house in Alderley Edge, stealing a watch and jewellery worth more than £11,000.
The final attempted burglary took place the following day, back at Mr Kuszczak’s house. Still away, his CCTV system had been updated to include motion detectors. Police were alerted and Vera and Vallejos were tracked by helicopter running from the address and through a golf course.
In a statement, 38-year-old Mr Kuszczak, who has also played for Brighton, Wolves and Birmingham City Football Clubs, said the burglaries had had a ‘huge impact’ on himself and his family.
He now pays for round-the-clock CCTV monitoring and his partner feels vulnerable when he is away.
‘Every noise in the house leaves us wondering if the offenders are returning,’ he said in a statement.
A study of the mobile phones belonging to Vallejos and Vera showed they were in the vicinity of some of the houses at the time they were broken into. Their phones also revealed both were calling the same numbers before and after the raids, which police say suggests possible communication with a crime boss.
Vallejos admitted five counts of burglary and one of attempted burglary and was jailed for three years and eight months.
Vera pleaded guilty to three offences of burglary, one attempted burglary and another of going equipped for theft and was jailed for three years and four months.
In the second case, 42-year-old Ureta and the Oviedo brothers arrived in Britain, booked themselves into a hotel and rented a Mercedes before launching their 11-day burglary spree in Cheshire.
One of their victims was a 75-year-old widow, from whom they stole jewellery, including her grandmother’s engagement ring.
The burglary, she said, ‘turned her life upside down’, adding: ‘The place I thought of as home is now just a place with bad memories.’
The three men were arrested after their car was stopped by police, who found a number of stolen items within.
The Mail has established that Ureta had multiple convictions in Chile for crimes including theft and burglary dating back two decades, and had served more than six years in jail.
Alexis Oviedo, 25, also had two convictions for robbery, and was first jailed, for three years, when he was only 12 years old.
Until 2018, his 26-year-old brother, Nicholas, was a professional footballer, playing for a team in the Chilean second division.
Although he had no previous convictions, he was described as the ‘dictator’ of the operation, and information retrieved from his mobile phone indicated the stolen goods had either been sent back to Chile or sold to Romanian gangs and the cash wired home.
Nicholas Oviedo received a four-year prison sentence. Alexis Oviedo and Ureta were both handed custodial terms of four years and eight months.
The Mail asked the Home Office how, yet again, Chilean criminals had been able to enter Britain so easily. A spokesperson said they ‘take the issue of preventing foreign criminals entering the UK extremely seriously’ and that those who abuse ‘our hospitality’ would be deported.
‘We continue to strengthen our borders to protect the public, and carry out checks at passport control to identify those who may pose a threat,’ he said.
‘Border Force officials can, and do, use their powers to refuse entry to foreign offenders.’
In their defence, lawyers for the men claimed they had variously ‘fallen on hard times’ or unintentionally got involved in ‘criminality’ for which they apologised.
Words which, given what we now know about their pasts, ring as hollow as the sound made by a gang of thieves trying to force their way into a locked safe.
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