France’s National Judicial Police has arrested 13 suspects linked to an organised crime group behind the large-scale theft and trafficking of SUVs to West Africa. The operation was the result of a two-year investigation involving six European countries, INTERPOL and Europol.
The criminal group, made up of French, Gambian and Senegalese nationals, benefited from a mobile and flexible criminal structure, where so-called “coordinators” would place orders for certain models of vehicles to car thieves located throughout France.
Once stolen, the vehicles would then be driven to various ports in Europe – often by minors – in order to be concealed in cargo containers and shipped to West Africa. Authorities have so far identified more than 170 vehicles that have been transported from Belgian, Dutch, French, German and Spanish ports.
On 12 September, more than 110 officers, including tactical and canine units, raided locations across France, resulting in the arrest of suspected thieves, logisticians and the two main “coordinators” in France of the criminal enterprise.
Officers seized car-theft equipment including illicit on-board diagnostic (OBD) port software, vehicle registration documents and cash. Real-time analysis of seized mobile phones pointed to containers carrying nine stolen vehicles, which were immediately intercepted in the ports of Le Havre, France and Las Palmas, Spain.
INTERPOL’s Stolen Motor Vehicle (SMV) unit has played a key role in supporting the investigation since 2021, through the analysis of data in INTERPOL’s SMV database, providing information on suspected routes, and deploying officers.
Stephen Kavanagh, INTERPOL Executive Director of Police Services, said: “Vehicle crime generates significant revenue for organised crime groups. We’ve seen that by sharing data between countries we can successfully disrupt their business model and ensure those responsible face justice.”
In 2022, around 278,000 motor vehicles worldwide were identified as stolen thanks to the SMV database. Some 135 countries shared national stolen vehicle data and carried out nearly 350 million searches.
Participating countries: France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.