Europol and Eurojust supported this week a major international operation carried out by authorities from Belgium, Italy and Spain against an international organized criminal group (OCG) involved in large-scale trafficking of luxury cars stolen within the European Union and destined for locations in northern Europe and North Africa.
After several months of investigations, intense collaboration among law enforcement authorities of the concerned Member States, and the support provided by Europol and Eurojust at the international level, today’s action led to the arrest of 28 suspects, searches of several businesses and homes, and the seizure of a large amount of documents and other assets.
The operation was also supported from a coordination center at Eurojust’s headquarters in The Hague.
The OCG, with key players in Belgium and Spain, was composed of Italian and Moroccan suspects, with a network of associates in several other Member States.
The modus operandi adopted by the OCG was highly sophisticated:
- OCG members obtained identification data on the potential stolen vehicles and their owners from the Public Vehicles Registry in Italy;
- such data were then used to create counterfeit documents to be used in Spain to obtain copies of the original key to be later used in the theft;
- after the theft of the vehicle, OCG members made a second inspection at the Public Vehicles Registry to obtain the data of vehicles similar to those that were stolen; and
- false documents, including vehicle registration, license plates and insurance, were then created on the basis of legitimate vehicles, and these replaced the original documentation of the stolen vehicles. In this manner, the ‘clone vehicles’ were able to circulate in Italy and mislead possible police checks before finally being exported abroad.
Investigations began in Italy in 2015 by the Piedmont and Valle D’Aosta’s Street Police Compartment of the Italian State Police, under the leadership of the Public Prosecution Office of Turin, after victims reported a large number of stolen luxury vehicles. The Italian authorities identified patterns in the modus operandi and discovered important links with other countries. Independent investigations were carried out in Belgium and Spain.
Given its international dimension, the case was brought to the attention of Europol and Eurojust at the end of 2015.
Europol’s property crime experts immediately performed cross-checks against the Agency’s databases, which revealed that the same OCG had been under police radar in other Member States. In November 2015, Europol funded a first operational meeting between law enforcement officers from Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain, aimed at facilitating the exchange of information and coordinating the investigation.
- Number of arrests carried out: 4 in Belgium, 6 in Spain and 18 in Italy
- Number of premises searched: 8 in Spain and 21 in Italy
- Assets seized: 40 stolen luxury vehicles, several computer devices and telephone handsets, shipping container documents, false IDs, license plates and driving licenses, counterfeit currency (approximately EUR 25.000) and a large amount of other documents.