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Six members of a suspected organised crime network are being detained at three garda stations across Co Clare today, after being arrested as part of a major investigation into the theft of catalytic convertors.

Sources say that the suspects which include five men and one woman have been the target of a major surveillance operation.

A meeting of Clare’s Joint Policing Committee (JPC) in April heard that there was a 115pc increase in thefts from vehicles in the first three months of this year including nine incidents in a five day period in January.

“There were 34 thefts from MPVs between January and March of last year and 73 this year,” Chief Superintendent Sean Colleran told local politicians.

“Catalytic converters are very much the target. Significant arrests and in-roads have been made in this regard,” he added.

As part of their investigations into the spiralling crime in the west coast county, Chief Supt Colleran revealed that gardaí have been visiting scrap yards as part of their investigations.

“The metal in catalytic converters has incredible value and we’re very aware of why they are stole and where they can end up,” he said.

“That’s why we regularly visit scrap yards during our investigations.”

While there has been a major increase in this type of theft in Clare this year, senior sources say that the crime has been less prevalent nationwide this year than in 2020 but there has been a number of operations targeting the gangs involved.

In a major operation in the Finglas area in late April gardaí recovered almost €75k in cash and 2,150 catalytic converters and 14 drums of smelted catalytic converters, with a combined value of €2.2 million.

This was after an operation in the Ballymun area, a week earlier in which gardaí said they had they “seized 300 catalytic convertors weighing a total of 1275kg with an estimated value of €150,000.”

Senior sources say that the theft of catalytic convertors is a very hard crime to detect as often the seized items cannot be linked back to a particular vehicle or crime.

In some cases gardaí have had to give back ‘CATS’ as they are known - which they have seized in raids on scrap yards in targeted operations because they could establish no proof that they had been stolen.

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Specialist officers have been involved in a long running operation targeting a criminal known as ‘The Smelter’ who is aged in his 50’s is suspected of being the “go-to-guy” for thugs who have been involved in a nationwide spree of stealing catalytic convertors from vehicles.

He is based in Dublin but also has strong connections to the midlands and border counties.

The catalytic converter is a section of a vehicle’s exhaust where gases from the engine are passed over and through a metal that breaks down pollutants within and CAT’s as they known have become rich pickings for organised criminals worldwide because as gardaí warn, the items “cannot be uniquely traced to one vehicle.”

The CAT’s contain precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium which are then brought by the gangs who have been stealing them from vehicles to specialist metal refiners who can extract the precious metals inside.

Gardaí announced details of this morning’s arrest operation.

“Gardaí have arrested six people in Co Clare as part of an ongoing operation targeting suspected organised crime,” a spokesman said.

“As part of the operation uniform and detective Gardaí from the Clare Division arrested six people in Ennis and the West Clare area this morning, June 1, 2021. The six people, five men and one woman, are currently being detained under Section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2007 at Ennis, Shannon and Kilrush Garda Stations.

“This organised crime group are believed to be involved in the theft of catalytic converters and the sale of the precious metals contained within,” he added.

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