Dawn raids have taken place at scrap yards and private homes in the North East that has seen over 30 people arrested on suspicion of money laundering.
In Durham, 21 people were arrested, in Northumbria 12 were arrested and there were also arrests in Cleveland – all as part of Operation Tornado.
Three scrap yards in Durham and six in Northumberland were closed for three days as police searched them for evidence of illegal activity.
The intelligence-led raids had been several months in planning.
Durham Constabulary chief superintendent Dave Orford said: “This operation is to help the scrap industry achieve its aim of ensuring those who operate within it do so lawfully. One of our key aims to that end is to choke off the market for stolen metal.
“While we have previously carried out unannounced spot checks on dealers, today is the first time we have effectively closed yards for business. This should send a clear message to metal thieves and people who profit from dealing in stolen metal that their activities won’t be tolerated.”
British Transport Police deputy chief constable Paul Crowther said: “This multi-force operation targeted those scrap metal dealers who are suspected of profiting from the proceeds of metal theft and money laundering.
“Scrap metal dealers have a responsibility to ensure the metal they buy is from legitimate sources and that they keep appropriate records. It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to stolen metal. By helping criminals to turn stolen metal into cash, often quickly and easily, dealers are fuelling this crime which is blighting our infrastructure and disrupting the lives of ordinary people on a daily basis.”
Operation Tornado also involves a scheme that has seen an estimated 80 per cent of the 240 scrap dealers in the Durham, Northumberland and Cleveland area sign up to requiring increased identification of customers before a transaction can take place.