Thieves jump on cobalt craze with $10m warehouse heist

(Bloomberg) — It’s not just hedge funds that have noticed the cobalt boom — thieves have too.

About 112 metric tons of cobalt was stolen from a warehouse in Rotterdam owned by Vollers Group Gmbh earlier this month, according to a statement from the Minor Metals Trade Association, a U.K.-based industry group. At today’s prices, the loot is worth almost $10 million.

The explosion in cobalt prices over the past two years has made the metal enticing for crooks, with each ton fetching $82,500, according to pricing data from Metal Bulletin. Analysts are projecting that usage of cobalt — a key part of lithium-ion batteries — will continue to increase as automakers like Tesla Inc. and Volkswagen AG promote electric cars.

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Prices have risen more than threefold since early 2016 and were trading at a decade-high in April. Part of the rally has been driven by traders and investors stockpiling metal to take advantage of rising prices.

The Minor Metals Trade Association didn’t name the company who owned the stolen cobalt. One entity holding metal in the warehouses is Cobalt 27, a prominent investment firm set up by Anthony Milewski. He declined to say if his company was affected.

Corporate filings show the large majority of Cobalt 27’s 2,900-ton holding is stored in Rotterdam warehouses run by C. Steinweg Group. It also holds 100 tons of metal in Vollers depots in the port. Cobalt 27 has insurance on all of the metal it holds, filings show.

It’s not the first time cobalt has attracted criminal attention. Back in late 2008, Belgian police arrested a gang who stole 20 tons of cobalt metal from Vollers warehouses in Antwerp, filings in a related court case show.

One of those charged, an employee of a transportation company that worked with Vollers, confessed that he’d locked himself in the warehouse and disabled the alarm, and over six hours removed the metal with a bulldozer, according to court documents filed in London.

Vollers is adding security measures after the theft and working with Dutch police and insurers, the Minor Metals Trade Association said. The warehousing company didn’t respond to a request for comment by Bloomberg News.

(By Mark Burton)