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Tracking Stolen Catalytic Converters, As Their 'Provenance Becomes Opaque'

In a lengthy investigative piece that spanned three continents, The New York Times tracked the path of catalytic converters stolen from cars. Some metallurgical plants look the other way and accept questionable, used catalytic converters, which they grind into powder and send to refineries, because pollution control devices contain valuable metals, making them a hot commodity for recycling. The metals -- platinum, palladium and rhodium -- are three of the earth’s rarest, most expensive metals and vital components in the millions of catalytic converters that reduce polluting emissions from gasoline-powered vehicles.

The Times describes the massive racket as “a billion-dollar epidemic of catalytic converter thefts that has not only disabled vehicles but also involved dozens of shootings, truck hijackings and other violence.” For car owners, replacing the parts can be difficult and, when found, can run $1,000 or more. But despite public attention on the thefts, little has been known about where the stolen metal goes, who benefits or why stopping the thievery has proved so difficult.

After Times reporters examined business records and social media posts and interviewed more than 80 officials on three continents who have ties to the industry, they found that the stolen parts pass through middlemen, smelters and refineries in the United States and overseas. “Along the way, their provenance becomes opaque, leaving beneficiaries of the thefts with plausible deniability and little incentive to stop them.”


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