It was an important step because it meant the Lexus was now in the crime system. APU has an information-sharing agreement with NaVCIS, the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, which in turn notified the National Crime Agency (NCA), an international body that tackles threats facing the UK from serious organised crime.
Paul Stanfield, the NCA’s
regional manager for east and southern Africa, says: “In the first three months of 2015, vehicles worth a total of about £100m were stolen in the UK. I was told that Uganda, which is in my management zone, is one of the centres of the market where cars were brought in from the UK and sold on.”
Uganda was once a British protectorate and its motorists still drive on the left, so right-hand-drive vehicles are desirable.
“The cars in Africa can be at least double the price that you would pay in the UK,” says Stanfield. “Importing them and paying the taxes makes the cars very expensive, but also very desirable in Africa.”
As Stanfield dug deeper, he discovered that stolen UK cars had been recovered by the Ugandan authorities in the past but were still sitting in secure compounds. He found myriad reasons for this including communication difficulties between organisations across different continents, stretched police resources and insurers reluctant to go to the expense of recovering the cars to the UK.
Stanfield was determined to take action: “If new cars are being stolen shortly after they’ve been sold, that’s undermining the market because customers won’t buy them and insurers won’t cover them.”
The NCA decided to mount a sting operation when the next UK-registered stolen car turned up in Africa. When Stanfield found out about APU’s tracker-equipped Lexus, which had reached port in Mombasa, Kenya, he decided it was a perfect opportunity to track the movements of the criminals.
“We had to get permission from APU because the company’s priority is to recover the car,” he says. “The good thing is that Neil Thomas is a former police officer and understood our situation.”
The shipping container, now under covert surveillance by local police, was taken off the boat at Mombasa in Kenya and travelled west across the country on a low-sided truck. Thanks to the car’s tracking device, the police were able to remain at arm’s length and avoid arousing suspicion.
“We identified corruption involving port officials,” says Stanfield. “The vehicle went from Kenya into Uganda, where we saw more corruption at the border.”
The crooks took advantage of discrepancies in customs checks between different nations to smuggle the cars through.
“To take a car into Kenya, it must be examined in the UK to make sure it is roadworthy and not stolen, which, of course, didn’t happen,” says Stanfield. “When you go to Uganda, the onus is on the individual to register it and do the necessary checks, but criminals don’t.”
Instead, to get it into Kenya, the container’s contents were listed as random items. According to its manifest, it should have contained a cement mixer, sacks of used shoes and restaurant tables. Entering Uganda, however, the contents
were declared as cars, so that
the documentation appeared
to be legitimate.
The cars were transported to the Ugandan capital of Kampala and from there to a bonded warehouse, where imported goods are stored until their owners collect them
and pay the duty.Stanfield’s team waited to see
who would come to collect the cars, but hopes of catching the criminal ringleaders were in vain.