British are 'major players' in £2bn stolen-car trade

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The Independent Online

Police have uncovered a £2bn trade in stolen luxury cars being exported through British ports.

Police have uncovered a £2bn trade in stolen luxury cars being exported through British ports.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service said yesterday that 200 major criminals were responsible for the theft and sale overseas of 100,000 high-performance vehicles every year.

NCIS said that stolen Mercedes and BMWs were going to West Africa, Range Rovers to Russia, Jaguars to New Zealand and people carriers to Pakistan and South Africa.

Around 40,000 of the cars are being stolen from the streets of Britain, some after being test driven from showrooms or hired from rental companies.

Up to 60,000 others are passing through British ports after being stolen elsewhere. British criminals are now considered "major players" in car theft on the Continent, often disguising their operations behind the front of a legitimate second-hand car business.

David Lowe, head of NCIS's Organised Vehicle Crime section, said: "Where these people benefit is that they don't have to sell these cars cheaply to a man in the pub. They are introducing the vehicles into legitimate markets overseas and getting good prices."

Most vehicles stolen in Britain are being sold in countries where driving is on the left, including Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Kenya, South Africa and Pakistan.

They are being shipped through deep-water ports like Felixstowe from where many hundreds of containers depart every day. The ports of Felixstowe, Tilbury and Southampton each uncovered luxury vehicles worth £1m in the past year.

One British car dealer who handled 200 vehicles worth £2m which were being exported to buyers overseas, was given a six-year jail sentence last year.

Police believe that many of the key players in the trade are involved in other areas of organised crime but are drawn to luxury car theft by the potentially high profits and relatively light sentences if caught.

Last week NCIS hosted a meeting of representatives from 15 European Union states to set up Project Leopard to address the problem.