Police in Greece say they have arrested 63 people accused of running a major gold smuggling operation, using a network of pawn shops that rapidly expanded during the country's severe financial crisis.
The arrests were announced Wednesday and police seized cash, gold bars, jewels and other valuable items worth an estimated 2 million euros ($2.3 million). The suspects allegedly exported much of the gold to Turkey — melting and recasting gold and using tour buses bound for Istanbul to transport it without paying taxes.
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Police said two separate but collaborating criminal networks were involved in the operation for at least two years.
Pawn shops sprung up on commercial streets across Greece during the 2010-2018 financial bailouts, as Greeks suffered a surge in poverty and unemployment and successive hikes in taxes.