When Greece adopted the euro, it poured billions into modernising its infrastructure, building spectacular bridges, highways, and a brand-new rail transit network for Athens.
Now, locked in recession and crushed by debt, Greeks are targeting many of those projects, gouging out the metal and selling it for scrap to feed ravenous demand driven by China and India.
Police say they now arrest an average of four metal thieves every day, compared to a few cases every month before the crisis started in late 2009. They are accused of stealing industrial cable, power-line transformers and other metal objects, triggering blackouts and massive train delays. The profile of the metal thief is also changing, authorities say, from gypsies and immigrants living on the margins of society to mainstream Greeks who have fallen on hard times.
As European countries dip in and out of recession, global demand for metals has remained high because of the industrial rise of emerging powers, making stolen cables and metal used in infrastructure a growth market worldwide.