Top of the range vehicle smuggling in region rises Some of the cars intercepted from South Africa on their way to Zimbabwe and Mozambique

Freeman Razemba Crime Reporter

Some criminals in the region are targeting and stealing top-of-the-range vehicles before smuggling them into neighbouring countries, including Zimbabwe, where forged documents are manufactured before the vehicles are sold.

Smuggling of vehicles by syndicates from South Africa across the Limpopo River, usually a very shallow and almost dry river, has been rife and most of the vehicles will be en-route to Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania although some will be destined for the Zimbabwean market.

This has prompted Interpol to launch an operation code-named “Take Back”, targeting stolen cars worldwide and the ZRP is among the countries participating in the operation.

So far 200 top-of-the-range vehicles, all probably stolen and smuggled into Zimbabwe, have been impounded under a joint operation between the Zimbabwe Republic Police and Interpol targeting vehicles stolen in SADC.

The operation, which started last week, is regional and Zimbabwe is playing its part.

Most of the vehicles impounded in Zimbabwe were believed to have been stolen and smuggled into the country using fake documents before their engines and chassis numbers were tampered with to obtain genuine local registration.

According to Interpol, “vehicle crime is a highly organised criminal activity affecting all regions of the whole world and with clear links to organised crime and terrorism”.

“The term “vehicle crime” refers to the theft and trafficking of vehicles and the illicit trade in spare parts. These activities affect personal property, businesses, the economy and public safety in all regions of the world.”

Interpol said the organised theft of motor vehicles, while of immediate concern to the individual owner, also has a financial implication for insurance companies, is damaging to the reputation of car manufacturers and, in most cases, is linked to other organised crime.

“For organised criminal groups, the acquisition, shipment and trade of stolen vehicles is a low-risk way to make profits. Stolen vehicles are frequently trafficked in order to finance and carry out other criminal activities, ranging from drug trafficking, arms dealing, people smuggling and international terrorism.

“Additionally, the illicit market in spare parts is a lucrative source of income for criminal organisations and offers them many practical uses.

“Not only does this phenomenon have a financial impact on the industry, but it also puts drivers in danger as illicit spare parts are likely to fall below recognised safety standards,” Interpol said.

Recently, law enforcement agents in South Africa seized a Toyota Hilux Legend 50 and a Toyota Prado along the Limpopo River. The law enforcement agents also recovered another grey Ford Ranger which was abandoned by the criminals who escaped into Zimbabwe.

Six undocumented people were then arrested with a stolen Mitsubishi truck.

On Monday, some smugglers tried to smuggle a white Toyota Land Cruiser from SA to Mozambique but dumped the vehicle while being pursued. They stopped the vehicle and fled into the bushes on foot.

On the following day, Tuesday, at about 3am, the smugglers tried again to smuggle two Toyota Legend 50 bakkies, a Toyota Fortuner and a Toyota Hilux truck into Mozambique.

The smugglers shot at the soldiers and during the shoot-out, one of the smugglers was shot and killed.

SA Police Services officer commanding joint tactical headquarters Mpumalanga, Lieutenant Colonel Mbekiseni Eshmond Ndlangamandla, who also went to the scene, has since encouraged the deployed soldiers to make sure that the border, is completely closed.

He emphasised that the deployed soldiers were to curb cross-border crime, supporting the words of the company commander who said that despite the intimidation by smugglers, his company will continue to work until the mission is accomplished.

In 2020, around 248 976 motor vehicles worldwide were flagged as stolen.

In 2014, Interpol and ZRP also conducted an operation code-named “Usalamu” targeting stolen vehicles.

The operation was being conducted in other Interpol member countries and law enforcement agents were targeting Isuzu trucks and Toyota Fortuner SUVs, which were being smuggled into and out of the country.

Police were mounting roadblocks in and around Harare, with officers from Interpol.

Nearly 7,2 million cars were reported stolen in 127 countries worldwide in 2013. Many of the vehicles were lost through carjackings, while others were stolen from parking lots.

In 2005, 3 296 263 vehicles were stolen, in 2012 there were 7 250 909, 7 097 877 in 2011 and in 2010 there were 7 156 792 reports. In 2004, the figure was 7 288 741.

Interpol is the world’s largest international police organisation, with 190 members. Its role is to enable police around the world to work together and be able to receive, consolidate and distribute information for member forces.

All member countries are connected through a secure communications system known as I-24/7. This gives police real-time access to criminal databases containing millions of records globally.

Interpol’s unique system of notices is used to alert member countries to fugitives, dangerous criminals, missing persons and weapons threats.

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