Agents from Interpol have carried out an operation in which dozens of expensive cars stolen in Europe were recovered. The operation, which ended on Thursday, was prompted by information that Kenya and other countries in the region are increasingly becoming the market for four-wheel vehicles stolen by an international criminal ring from as far as the United Kingdom.
Kenyan police confirmed that they worked jointly with Interpol to recover vehicles, some of which were on the road and locally registered. Criminal Investigations Department (CID) director Ndegwa Muhoro said the cross-border operation, which started in Burundi and Rwanda, will extend to other countries in the region.
The operation was carried out jointly with local police, Interpol and the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). Seventeen vehicles were impounded on Wednesday. However, Mr Muhoro said they were not in a rush to take their owners to court. “Most of these people are innocent and we have to fully investigate to determine who is culpable,” said Mr Muhoro.
A source at the Office of the President said the operation was carried out in secret so that those who had bought the stolen vehicles do not hide them. More sweeps for stolen vehicles, this time saloons and station wagons, were planned based on the information received from Interpol, the source said. The engine and chassis numbers of the vehicles impounded are being checked to establish if they were reported stolen in other countries.
Some unscrupulous people have been defrauding insurance companies by selling their vehicles in neighbouring countries and claiming they have been stolen. Mr Muhoro urged Kenyans wishing to import vehicles to consult the Regional Interpol Office in Nairobi to make sure they are not buying stolen cars. “The service is free of charge but sadly, Kenyans are not making use of it,” he said.
The Interpol office has an inventory of all vehicles stolen across the world and at a click of a button they are able to tell whether a car was stolen or not. Last September, a similar operation was conducted in Tanzania and 51 vehicles impounded. Twenty two of the vehicles were stolen from Japan, 12 from South Africa, eight from Malaysia, three from UK and one each from Kenya, Tanzania, Slovenia, Germany, Mozambique and Australia.
Self-driven hired cars are increasingly becoming targets of an international car theft syndicate in Kenya. The cartel has been stealing an average of 10 vehicles from major towns and smuggling them to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Malawi via Tanzania and Uganda every month.
They hire the cars posing as clients or hold drivers of hired vehicles hostage, drug them or tie them up before driving off with the vehicle. Another coordinated Interpol operation conducted in 2007 in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda netted hundreds of stolen vehicles. Head of Flying Squad Munga Nyale said car thieves had changed tactics and were hiring self-drive vehicles for an extended period, which they then drive across the border before they are reported missing.
The syndicate has infiltrated the Registrar of Motor Vehicles offices, where it obtains blank logbooks that are used when smuggling stolen vehicles across the border.