Car theft syndicate its South Nyanza

Updated: June 15, 2010

When a primary school teacher in Gucha District invested his savings to buy a new car, which he intended to use as a taxi, his colleagues were green with envy.

It was a promising business that had brought him good money to supplement his income. So when he was recently asked by three men to take them to a town 20 kilometres away, he was happy for the business. He was to ferry his customers from Mogonga to Etago Market. Then he went missing for days and family members could not reach him on phone.

Days later, his mutilated body was found in a sugarcane plantation in Rongo District. A search for the missing car led to the arrest of a pastor who had unknowingly bought the deceased’s vehicle. The vehicle registration number and chassis number had been changed. The prime suspect was later arrested in a Mombasa nightclub and charged in court with the offence. However, his accomplices are still at large.

Regional cartel

This tale is common to many taxi operators who have suffered in the hands of a criminal cartel responsible for the disappearance of over 20 cars and the murder of two drivers. The syndicate is targeting taxi and motorcycle operators. The stolen vehicles and motorcycles are mostly sold to unsuspecting buyers out of the country.

The criminals steal the vehicles from Kenya and Uganda then change their chassis number and sell them in Tanzania. Police in Gucha recently traced one of the gang members to Tarime, Tanzania, a few kilometres from Sirare border.

However, local police refused to arrest him after he allegedly bribed them. The suspected gangster was found with a motorcycle with Kenyan registration numbers, which was reported as having been stolen in Kenya. The suspect, who hails from Gucha District, operates businesses in Tanzania. Police say he hires gang men to steal cars and deliver them to the border point for a fee. He then sells them in Tanzania.

Boda boda operators who have also fallen prey to the gang, say members of the gang drive a white saloon car. After identifying a motorcycle to be stolen, one of them poses as a customer and asks the operator to catch up with a white car ahead of them. Upon reaching the car, the passenger stops it and as he alights, the thugs attack the operator as he waits to be paid and bundles him into the boot. Then one of them rides the motorcycle away.
Most victims are assaulted and left for dead at a forest near Kehancha town, Kuria District. In October last year, Ndege from Kisii Central had travelled to Nairobi and left his Toyota station wagon with a friend. Three men approached the friend at around 9 am in Kisii town and asked to be taken to Motonto Market in Gucha. At Motonto, one of them brandished a pistol, ordered him to remove his clothes and stole everything from him before disappearing with the car.

Efforts to trace his car have been fruitless.

Gucha South DC Geoffrey Mayama acknowledges that the problem is serious saying administrators and security chiefs from South Nyanza had held meetings to discuss on how to curb the crime.

Police involvement

Victims say the criminals appear to be working in cahoots with CID officers who are reluctant to arrest and interrogate some suspects. “I have spent over Sh200,000 trying to trace my car in vain. I have conducted my own investigations and I believe my car is operating within Kisii as a taxi. I think it has been repainted and modified. There are more than 20 stolen cars now operating as taxi business after being changed in some garages in town,” says Ndege.

He says they suspect a prominent businessman is behind the syndicate. The group, he says, operates garages and stores in Kisii and Ringa towns where mechanics change the stolen vehicles’ chassis numbers. They target new cars as they are disposed off faster locally and in neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania.

Another victim is pastor George Ongwesa from Nyamira who had invested Sh700,000 in a Toyota Corolla and ventured into the lucrative taxi business in Nyamira town. “It was stolen after one year. I had just serviced it and bought new tyres. It was in very good condition,” recalls the pastor.

On February 19, he called his driver in the morning to pick him from a function. He says immediately the driver’s number went off.
In the evening, his driver called to say he had been hijacked and later dumped in Nakuru. The driver later gave a different version saying he had been dumped at River Road, Nairobi. “I reported to police and the driver was interrogated and released. I believe he was lying,” narrates pastor Ongwesa. Just like in the other incidents, somebody had been monitoring Ongwesa’s car. He had hired it pretending to be an employee of a big NGO.

Police were able to track the suspects M-pesa transactions and discovered he had withdrawn money through using an ID belonging to a woman. When contacted, the woman denied knowing the man. “My driver says the passenger asked many questions about the car alarm system and its general security. I suspect he could be connected to the syndicate that sells cars to Tanzania,” he adds.

Some victims claim a civic leader from Nyamira could also be connected to the crime.

The politician has previously been arrested and interrogated over car theft in Tanzania. Gucha OCPD Richard Ng’etich admits there have been cases of motorcycle and car theft but says the incidents have gone down. “We arrested one key suspect we believe to have been connected to a series of thefts and he has been charged. One suspect is however still at large. We hear he operates in Transmara, Kuria and stays in Tanzania but we shall catch up with him,” Ng’etich told CCI.

“We now have few cases after suspects were gunned down by Kenya Wildlife Service rangers at Masurura in Transmara. They were driving a stolen car to Tanzania through Kuria,” said a senior CID officer who asked not to be identified. The officer said flying squad officers had intensified crack down on suspected carjackers but denied claims that there could be a syndicate.

“I doubt whether there is a syndicate as flying squad officers have recovered some vehicles reported stolen. Some of them are hijacked and used to commit crimes, and then abandoned,” he said.

Published on: 02/12/2009
Adopted from: The Standard | Online