Guatamalan law lands phone thieves up to 15 years

GUATEMALA CITY (AFP) - Guatemala's Congress has passed a law making cell phone theft punishable with up to 15 years prison without parole, a legislative source said on Wednesday.

The law, approved on Tuesday night, also creates a register of devices used in the country, Congress said in a statement posted on its website.

The legislation also prescribes penalties of between 5 to 10 years in prison or a fine of 40,000 to 100,000 quetzals (S$6,300 to S$15,760) for people who purchase phones of dubious origin.

Individuals selling the phones illegally can find themselves with a fine of 100,000 to 250,000 quetzals and six to 10 years in prison.

The penalty for theft of a cellphone is six to 15 years in prison without possibility of parole, under the new law.

Congress voted on the law under a "national emergency," aiming to combat a rise in often-violent cell phone theft.

The use of cell phones in prison, by inmates or employees, will be penalised under the new law as well.

According to official data, more than 12,000 phones are stolen every month in Guatemala, a country of more than 15 million people.

In 2012, 142,745 mobile phones were stolen, forty per cent more than in 2011, according to figures from the Superintendency of Telecommunications.