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Where Do Stolen Cars Go?

By raccars Published

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A British police operation has tracked down 29 cars stolen in the UK - in Uganda. The cars, with a combined value of over £1 million, were found on wasteland in the African country's capital, Kampala, after police used a smartphone app to track a stolen Lexus SUV.

The £50,000 Lexus RX 450h, a hire car, was stolen in west London but the thieves were unaware that it contained a high tech tracking device by APU, allowing police to track it down. The tracker was activated as soon as thieves made off with the vehicle and was linked to a smartphone app, which the National Crime Agency used to follow it on its 6,000 mile journey. When they found the Lexus it was parked with 28 other premium vehicles, also stolen from the UK, by an organised gang of car smugglers.

British cars are particularly valued in Uganda, thanks to their right hand drive format. As a former British colony, Uganda still drives on the left but it's very expensive to import right hand drive cars into the land locked country. Cars stolen in Australia have also been found in Uganda, for the same reason. In 2013, an Interpol operation tracked down 300 stolen British and Australian cars - 120 of them in Uganda. On arrival in the country, the criminal gangs organising the operation sell the vehicles on with documents which can look legal to the buyer but which are fraudulent or obtained by corrupt means.

The Lexus which provoked the operation was stolen in April of this year and, according to its tracker data, went first to Le Havre in France, where it was loaded onto a ship which sailed down the west coast of France and through the Mediterranean to the Suez Canal and on to Oman, arriving on 19 May. It was then shipped in a steel container to Mombasa in Kenya, arriving on 2 June, and was taken by road through Kenya to its destination in Kampala on 12 June.

The police operation also identified corrupt Ugandan and Kenyan officials and allowed the National Crime Agency to infiltrate the criminal gang and dismantle its operation. The National Crime Agency in the UK, the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, APU anti-fraud investigators and Interpol have all been working together on this and other projects, to track down organised car smuggling gangs. Security services and police in both Uganda and Kenya also co-operated with UK police forces.

The majority of the haul of cars found in Uganda were from prestige brands, such as Audi, BMW and Range Rover. Some were already wearing licence plates from other countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo. The cars are on their way back to the UK.

It is believed that the gang involved were stealing luxury vehicles to order, using keyless ignition decryption devices to re-programme keys, so that there was no need to break in - they could simply start up the cars and drive them away. The process takes only seconds. Despite co-operation between the police, insurance firms and car manufacturers to combat this sophisticated kind of car crime, the owners of high value vehicles, such as premium brand 4x4s using keyless security systems, are increasingly at risk of theft. As manufacturers continually update security software, so the thieves are right behind, working out how to bypass new vehicle security.

More than 40,000 vehicles have been stolen from London alone this year, about a quarter of which were fitted with keyless ignition technology. Police forces in upmarket areas of the capital, such as Chelsea and Kensington, have taken to stopping luxury cars seen driving around after midnight to verify ownership. Most of these thefts take place at night.

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