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More Than 130 Guns Go Missing, Paraguay Police Say; Toy Replicas Left Behind

Officials in Paraguay are investigating the apparent theft of dozens of weapons, after a cache of automatic rifles that were kept at a police station were found to have disappeared – replaced by replicas made of plastic and wood.

"It is a very serious criminal act," said Paraguay's Minister of the Interior Juan Ernesto Villamayor, of the missing guns.

On Monday morning, Villamayor said that in addition to 44 rifles that have been reported lost, 90 small arms are missing. He also said that it can't be seen as normal for a police officer to lose their guns. There is some confusion over the final number of weapons involved: Many news outlets in Paraguay report 42 rifles have disappeared.

The long guns are FAL rifles, a firearm that was once a workhorse of NATO forces, that had been declared obsolete and placed into storage in the city of Capiata. They were in the custody of the national police's Department of Arms and Ammunition.

The now-former head of that department, José Segovia, has said that when he assumed the post in January, he did not closely inspect the current inventory. Segovia was replaced shortly after news of the gun switcheroo emerged late last week, according to Paraguay's ABC Color.

During an inspection, a gun technician found that dozens of rifles had been replaced with what looked to be airsoft replicas of the FAL, Ultima Hora says.

"The inspection had been ordered after the rifles started appearing a year ago on the black market, where they can fetch up to $10,000," the BBC reports. The agency adds that the weapons are in working order.

There had been a breakdown in the normal process of reviewing police inventory, according to Villamayor. After a request for a tally of the force's weapons in early July, he said, the report didn't make its way up the command chain until the middle of August.

Villamayor said the police have delivered all of the paperwork related to the missing guns, which is now being investigated by the office of the public prosecutor.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.