US Customs and Border Protection officials at one of the country’s busiest ports have intercepted a stolen car syndicate that aimed to ship most of the flashy vehicles to West Africa.
The ports in question are the New York and New Jersey ports while destination countries included Ghana and other neighbours in the ECOWAS region.
According to officials, the cars which include Mercedes Benz, 2020 G-wagon, Range Rovers and other luxury vehicles, are stolen from unsuspecting owners from across America.
In an interview with CNBC News, New York Customs officer Dean Panzarino said the origin of these cars were from states like Houston, Texas and Illinois.
He said the lucrative nature of the business meant that those involved were ready to take whatever risks were associated with their activity.
On the issue of the possible cost of the intercepted consignment, he told a CNBC reporter: “Right here, I’m gonna say around ¢500,000 and ¢600,000 big money to be made.”
The mode of operation is that these stolen cars are packed into shipping containers and sent to the ports in a tracker train, after which they have been exported to West African countries like Ghana to be sold for a hefty profit, the CNBC report added.
Officer Panzarino showed the reporter one of the containers that had furniture packed upon opening to distract officials: “normally you would see three (cars) at most, it’s like a kind of mouse game with the bad guys, the crooks and not scatting it going out,” he said.
“This is the busiest seaport in the nation for recovery of stolen cars that have been exported. What we have is a container that was targeted most likely for possible flowing of cars. Right now, we see furniture but behind this wall, what we are looking at could be stolen cars,” he explained.
“During the pandemic, we actually saw an increase in stolen cars being exported,” he bemoaned.
He is worried that amid the COVID-19 pandemic and at a time legitimate auto exporters were struggling with their business, criminal elements continued to move out vehicles via fraudulent means.
Other major revelations by the officer:
• Between 2017 – 2020, the number of stolen cars has steadily risen to 50 percent.
• Despite the high cost of shipping, criminals are persisting because they get the cars for free
• The US authorities are aware of a boom in the export of stolen cars.
• The border agency recovered 1,082 stolen vehicles between October 2019 and September 2020.
• Over 89% of those cars were destined for the West African coast to countries like Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.