Governments act to stem crisis
‘Transport official urges the public to be very careful when buying used cars from the UK’
POLICE in Cyprus and England have busted a criminal ring that was flooding the island’s roads with stolen cars from England.
According to the authorities here, Scotland Yard managed to crack a ring that used thousands of stolen vehicle certification papers from England for stolen cars.
The cars, most of which are luxury vehicles, were then shipped to Cyprus and sold to various people for bargain buys.
Investigators suspect that most of the people in possession of the suspect vehicles in Cyprus, don’t even know that they are stolen.
Police officials have stated that around 250 stolen cars have already been sold and are in circulation on the island.
This week, investigators from Scotland Yard were in Cyprus in connection with the case.
Commenting on the investigation Justice Minister Kypros Chrysostomides told reporters: "British police are on the island investigating a case in which it is believed that 245 vehicles arrived illegally in Cyprus. Already 80 such vehicles have been located."
It appeared that the ring "has been operational for quite some time," he added.
Although police have continuously denied claims that Cypriots are connected, reports in some newspapers claim that British-Cypriots may be involved. Other reports suggest that workers on the British Bases could be linked to the ring.
British police have been on the case for the last two years, ever since thousands of blank car certificates were stolen from the British Transport Authority.
It was with these stolen and then forged certificates that the Transport Department on the island was allowing the stolen vehicles to pass through.
Meanwhile, police in both Cyprus and UK are still looking into how the cars managed to get exported out of the UK and then imported into Cyprus despite the forged certificates.
According to police reports, the registration numbers on the stolen certificates had been noted and placed on the black list of all EU member states.
Both British and Cypriot police were this week scrutinising files at the Transport Department and Customs Services in an effort to establish how this could have happened.
The crime ring had also devised another clever way in which to ship the cars into Cyprus.
Investigators have stated that cars in England were literally "duplicated" and then shipped to Cyprus where they were given a Cypriot registration number here.
In other words, the culprits would steal a specific car and then use the registration details of a similar car in order to pass it undetected through customs.
Transport officials in Cyprus stated this week that it would have been almost impossible to determine whether a car in Cyprus, bearing British registration details, and one in England had the same licence plate.
The lengthy task of detecting the stolen vehicles got underway this week with investigators discovering four luxury cars – three Range Rovers and a BMW X5 – in the possession of a retired man.
His wife and daughter were also discovered to be in possession of stolen vehicles.
Commenting on the ongoing investigations this week, Police Chief Iacovos Papacostas said that it would be the Attorney-General who would decided whether all the stolen cars, that were sold to people in Cyprus, would have to be seized by the authorities.
Seeing that the cars are stolen property, it is more likely that they will be seized as evidence.
Attorney-General Petros Klerides will also decide on whether or not action should be taken against customs or transport department officials.
Another question still pending is what will happen to the people who had unknowingly bought the stolen cars and whether they will be compensated.
According to Scotland Yard detectives, those who had bought the stolen cars "should not sleep easy".
The Head of the Transport Department Soteris Koletas said this week that action could only be taken against a government official if it is deemed that he or she allowed a vehicle to pass through knowing that it was stolen.
"We would be at fault if we passed through a car that we knew was stolen", he told reporters on Tuesday.
He added that the certificates and registration papers of all second-hand cars imported from England were checked. Verifications were also made with the respective authorities in the UK.
"There have been many cases in the past in which stolen cars have been found and in each case, the relative authorities were alerted in the country it was exported from".
Arrest warrants had this week been issued against three people in connection with the investigation.
By John Leonidou
Published by The Cyprus Weekly - 26/05/2008
||| Ring flooded Cyprus with stolen cars