Currently reading: Car key burglary: stolen cars worth £1m are returned to the UK
Car theft ring in Uganda is broken thanks to tracking device fitted to a Lexus RX 450h; 26 cars are back in the UK almost a year after being stolen

A stash of 26 cars stolen from these shores and smuggled to Uganda in shipping containers have been returned to the UK this week.

The location of the 26 cars, collectively worth more than £1m and including expensive Range Rovers, Audi Q7s and BMW X5s, was discovered in May 2015 when criminals stole a Lexus RX 450h fitted with tracking equipment that gave away their whereabouts.

Read Autocar’s story on the Ugandan car smuggling ring

The Lexus was tracked across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, to expose an international car theft ring based in Kampala, Uganda.

An operation to expose the smuggling ring and recover the cars was mounted by a partnership between the National Crime Agency (NCA), National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS), Interpol and anti-motor fraud specialist, Asset Protection Unit (APU).

The successful operation impeded the criminal network in Uganda to such an extent that it is no longer among the most prevalent destinations for cars stolen from the UK.

The cars were returned to UK waters off Southampton on 19 March, 11 months after the Lexus had originally been reported stolen.

Twelve car insurers, including Admiral, Allianz, Aviva and Zenith, were victims of the Ugandan car ring. Many criminal groups are still operational in the UK with vehicles being stolen to order for customers in Cyprus, Africa and Eastern Europe.

Neil Thomas, director of investigative services at APU, said: “This case is a feather in the cap for APU and its forensic capabilities. It’s also very pleasing that all parties involved were able to achieve some tangible success, despite being led thousands of miles across the world in what was considered an impossible task by the Police. One of the insurers involved had simply given up.

“This is the first time such an operation has been run involving this level of International and cross agency co-operation, and it is a real example of how private industry, leading-edge technology and expertise can assist law enforcement. It sets the template for future operations targeting organised criminals intent on stealing mobile assets.”

The recovery of the cars is being seen as a significant moment in the battle against ‘car key burglary’, where organised gangs target affluent areas stealing cars to order.

It is one facet of a motor fraud insurance problem that is estimated to be worth £1.3bn per year.

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