Greece hunts Colombians over hospital kit stolen in Athens
Greek police say a Colombian criminal gang has stolen expensive medical equipment from four Athens hospitals, with similar thefts seen across Europe.
Three suspects, still at large, have been identified. Bogota police have recovered four endoscopes, which tend to be used for internal examinations.
The Athens thefts happened last month. The Colombians had entered as tourists.
Police said a drug gang probably wanted endoscopes to check that drug-smuggling mules had really swallowed the drugs.
Swallowing small packets of drugs, then recovering them from excreta, is a well-known method used by drug traffickers.
Endoscopes are often for internal examinations to check the stomach and intestines.
Attica security chief Christos Papazafiris, quoted by Greek media, said:
- Medical equipment worth more than €500,000 (£434,000; $563,000) was stolen from St Savvas Hospital on 15 May
- Equipment worth €115,000 was stolen from the Lamia and Larissa hospitals between 19-22 May
- Two gastroscopes (used to inspect the interior of the stomach) were stolen from the gastroenterological department of Volos hospital on 21 May
The losses are hitting a Greek health service struggling because of austerity cuts in recent years, imposed under the EU bailout deal.
Mr Papazafiris said similar thefts had taken place in the past four years in Lithuania, Luxembourg, Spain, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, France and Croatia.
Three Colombians aged 20, 37 and 50, along with an unidentified woman, entered Greece in May as tourists from Turkey.
Using fake Portuguese passports, they rented an apartment in Athens and hired a car to visit hospitals they wanted to rob, To Vima news (in Greek) quoted police as saying. The gang left Greece on a flight to Bogota on 25 May.
Greek police said French authorities had tipped them off about Colombians suspected of similar thefts at French hospitals.