Hospitals in Spain can breathe a sigh of relief. At least four members of the so-called “endoscopy gang” have been put out of circulation. On Saturday, the Basque police arrested two men and two women in connection with the theft of medical equipment used in endoscopy – looking inside a patient’s body using a small lens mounted on a long, narrow tube – worth about a million euros.
A road check in Muskiz (Bizkaia) led police officers to a car containing hospital equipment worth 300,000 euros. The occupants of the vehicle were Venezuelan and Colombian nationals, and it is believed that the stolen goods were being sold on the Colombian black market for significantly less than they are worth, Televisión Española reported.
In the last six months there have been 11 similar thefts at hospitals in Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia and Navarre. The four detainees – a father and son ages 61 and 33 and two women aged 25 and 64 — have so far been charged with eight of the thefts, said Jordi Bascompte, division chief for criminal investigations.
The thieves targeted endoscopy probes in particular, which they sent to Colombia for resale. The price of a standard probe in Spain is upwards of 20,000 euros, whereas in Colombia the stolen items were being sold for 600 to 800 euros, according to Bascompte.
At the time of the arrest in the Basque Country, the vehicle was being followed by Catalan police, who have been investigating the thefts for months. Using hospital surveillance footage and records of post office shipments to Latin America, investigators were led to these four individuals, who are believed to have been planning similar actions in Basque hospitals.
Hospital managers suspect that the thieves investigated the premises ahead of the thefts, since they seemed to know exactly where to go. On several occasions they managed to access restricted areas without forcing any doors or showing any ID.
Endoscopy equipment comes with ID numbers that facilitate repair, and makes it very hard for items to be stolen and re-used at another Spanish health center.