THE HAGUE - A large-scale ring of luxury car thieves has been dismantled with the support of Eurojust and Europol. Using straw men and underprivileged people, the criminals hired or leased luxury vehicles, which they later registered in their own names through corrupt connections in official institutions.

The cars were resold outside the EU, including in the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. In a series of recent coordinated actions in Spain, France, Germany, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine, 13 suspects were arrested for fraud, forgery and money laundering.

Through a coordination centre at Eurojust, over sixty places were also searched by national authorities. Several luxury vehicles, communication equipment and documents were seized, as well as over EUR 100 000 in cash.

The Spanish authorities launched their investigation in 2022 following reports of luxury cars going missing from legitimately operating car rental and lease companies in and around Malaga. These investigations revealed that dozens of vehicles were ultimately stolen across Europe by a network of linked criminals. They exploited around fifty vulnerable and underprivileged people by using their documents, such as driving licences and passports, to hire or lease luxury cars.

Through corrupt contacts in official institutions, they managed to register the hired vehicles on to their personal documents, so they could sell them in the European Union and beyond, including Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. Some of the stolen vehicles were transported in containers to conceal the cars.

Investigations were later also started in France, Poland and Ukraine, which revealed links between different criminal groups using the same modus operandi. In March of this year, with the support and funding of Eurojust, authorities in France, Spain and Ukraine set up a joint investigation team into the car thefts. Eurojust also organised two preparatory coordination meetings to prepare for the recent action day week and set up the coordination centre.

Europol assisted the operations against the criminal network by producing criminal intelligence packages. It also provided an operational coordination centre to support the actions at police level.

Operations on the ground were carried out at the request of and by the following authorities:

· Spain: Investigative Court no. 1, Málaga; Public Prosecutor’s Office, Málaga; Spanish National Police

· France: Judiciary Tribunal, Grasse; National Gendarmerie, Central Office against Roving Crime (OCDLI)

· Germany: Public Prosecutor’s Offices Essen and Osnabrück; Police Departments of Essen and Osnabrück

· Latvia: 3rd Unit International Cooperation Department State Police

· Poland: Public Prosecutor’s Office, Warsaw

· Ukraine: Prosecutor General’s Office; Main Investigation Department and Department of Strategic Investigations of National Police.