Stolen in London in addition to smuggled to Africa – tracking the auto thieves
This specific map shows the route the thieves took to get the stolen Lexus into Africa
An insurance scam resulted in a stolen Lexus RX450h producing a 6000-mile journey over land in addition to sea, hidden inside a shipping container. however the police were watching…
On 1 May, Neil Thomas, director of investigative services for APU, a company of which recovers stolen vehicles, received an alert coming from a tracking device fitted to a British-registered Lexus RX450h of which placed This specific in Le Havre, France.
the auto, the property of Accident Exchange, APU’s sister company, which arranges loan cars for drivers involved in accidents of which were not their fault, shouldn’t have been there because This specific wasn’t insured for international travel.
APU specialises in looking after car fleets in addition to carrying out investigations relating to accidents in addition to motor insurance fraud. This specific monitors the movements of cars having a total value of more than £60 million via the use of tracking devices in addition to its own bespoke Asset Recovery Unit.
When the Lexus alert occurred, APU checked out the story of the client to whom the vehicle had been loaned.
Thomas says: “He’d contacted Accident Exchange in addition to explained of which he was a non-fault driver who had been in an accident having a dustbin lorry in London. He had its registration, the driver’s name in addition to all of the details for what appeared to be a credible accident.
“We dealt with This specific as a low-level threat because there might have been a legitimate explanation, however when we investigated a bit further we couldn’t get hold of the client. He had gone off the radar.”
When the tracking system pinpointed of which the Lexus was at This specific point at sea in a shipping container on a cargo ship, Thomas says “This specific raised concerns” of which the client’s identity in addition to accident were works of fiction.
APU gathered a dossier of evidence, tracking the shipping container to Oman. “We could say with certainty of which This specific was on a particular boat so, at of which stage, the Metropolitan Police reported This specific as stolen,” says Thomas.
This specific was an important step because This specific meant the Lexus was at This specific point from the crime system. APU has an information-sharing agreement with NaVCIS, the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, which in turn notified the National Crime Agency (NCA), an international Centeng of which tackles threats facing the UK coming from serious organised crime.
Paul Stanfield, the NCA’s regional manager for east in addition to southern Africa, says: “from the first three months of 2015, vehicles worth a total of about £100m were stolen from the UK. I was told of which Uganda, which will be in my management zone, will be one of the centres of the market where cars were brought in coming from the UK in addition to sold on.”
Uganda was once a British protectorate in addition to its motorists still drive on the left, so right-hand-drive vehicles are desirable.
“The cars in Africa can be at least double the cost of which you would likely pay from the UK,” says Stanfield. “Importing them in addition to paying the taxes makes the cars very expensive, however also very desirable in Africa.”
As Stanfield dug deeper, he discovered of which stolen UK cars had been recovered by the Ugandan authorities from the past however were still sitting in secure compounds. He found myriad reasons just for This specific including communication difficulties between organisations across different continents, stretched police resources in addition to insurers reluctant to go to the expense of recovering the cars to the UK.
Stanfield was determined to take action: “If completely new cars are being stolen shortly after they’ve been sold, of which’s undermining the market because customers won’t buy them in addition to insurers won’t cover them.”
The NCA decided to mount a sting operation when the next UK-registered stolen car turned up in Africa. When Stanfield found out about APU’s tracker-equipped Lexus, which had reached port in Mombasa, Kenya, he decided This specific was a perfect opportunity to track the movements of the criminals.
“We had to get permission coming from APU because the company’s priority will be to recover the auto,” he says. “The not bad thing will be of which Neil Thomas will be a former police officer in addition to understood our situation.”
The shipping container, at This specific point under covert surveillance by local police, was taken off the boat at Mombasa in Kenya in addition to travelled west across the country on a low-sided truck. Thanks to the auto’s tracking device, the police were able to remain at arm’s length in addition to avoid arousing suspicion.
“We identified corruption involving port officials,” says Stanfield. “The vehicle went coming from Kenya into Uganda, where we saw more corruption at the border.”
The crooks took advantage of discrepancies in customs checks between different nations to smuggle the cars through.
“To take a car into Kenya, This specific must be examined from the UK to make sure This specific will be roadworthy in addition to not stolen, which, of course, didn’t happen,” says Stanfield. “When you go to Uganda, the onus will be on the individual to register This specific in addition to do the necessary checks, however criminals don’t.”
Instead, to get This specific into Kenya, the container’s contents were listed as random items. According to its manifest, This specific should have contained a cement mixer, sacks of used shoes in addition to restaurant tables. Entering Uganda, however, the contents were declared as cars, producing sure of which the documentation appeared to be legitimate.
The cars were transported to the Ugandan capital of Kampala in addition to coming from there to a bonded warehouse, where imported goods are stored until their owners collect them in addition to pay the duty.Stanfield’s team waited to see who would likely come to collect the cars, however hopes of catching the criminal ringleaders were in vain.
“The customer buying the auto would likely be instructed to come to the warehouse in addition to would likely be responsible for paying any duty,” says Stanfield. “So the criminals involved didn’t have to turn up at the scene.”
Stanfield decided to swoop on the bonded warehouse to preserve the evidence in addition to ensure APU’s Lexus didn’t disappear into the hands of an expectant Ugandan owner.
“There were three more stolen cars coming from the UK from the container with the Lexus, in addition to others from the warehouse,” he says. “We investigated different bonded warehouses in addition to in total found 34 high-value cars of which had been stolen coming from the UK.”
Stanfield hopes of which seizing in addition to repatriating the cars will scare off anyone interested in buying a black market car.
“People who had been stopped in stolen cars all argued they had bought them in not bad faith,” he says. “We doubt of which was the case, however trying to prove This specific will be another matter.
“I told the Ugandan chief of police This specific was absolutely essential of which we repatriate these cars to the UK to take the incentive out of the market, in addition to he agreed. If people think they can get away by saying they bought the auto in not bad faith, they will continue to do This specific. Whereas if you take a car off someone who has just paid $70,000, of which will be a lot of money to lose.
“All the indications are of which, owing to our joint actions, the bottom of the stolen car market will be dropping out. The local police say there has been a real reduction from the number of UK cars turning up in Uganda.”
A key factor from the success of Stanfield’s operation was of which APU’s tracking device continued to transmit its position throughout the auto’s long journey.
“All tracking systems can be blocked, however This specific will be more intelligent than most,” says Thomas. “We do a lot of monitoring work, however This specific one was on a different level because of the geography in addition to logistics.
“Information about most commercially available tracking devices in addition to their fitting instructions are available on the internet. Ours can’t be found electronically or physically, in addition to you can’t go online in addition to find the instructions.”
Stanfield acknowledges of which without APU’s tracking technology, uncovering the links between UK in addition to Uganda would likely have taken him much longer: “On my smartphone I was able to see live tracking of the auto at any time. The tracking system APU has will be brilliant, however as important coming from my perspective were the people involved – we had the right partnerships in place.”
Stanfield hopes of which as well as disrupting the UK to Uganda route, the NCA will be able to bring some criminal convictions resulting coming from its ongoing investigation.
Thomas, meanwhile, will be waiting for the Lexus to be put back into a shipping container, This specific time for a legitimate journey across the sea in addition to home to the UK.
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