Monday, 13 April 2009
export of stolen luxury vehicles from Britain to Tanzania.
UK’s anti-fraud watchdog has joined investigations into a car theft ring involving the export of stolen luxury vehicles from Britain to Tanzania. According to British police sources, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is investigating the international aspect of the syndicate. The SFO is a UK government department and is part of the British criminal justice system. Investigators from the watchdog agency are usually called in to probe only ’’serious and complex fraud.’’ Experts say the involvement of Britain’s anti-fraud investigators in the case proves the seriousness of the crimes committed by the gang of car thieves. ’’The key criterion we use when deciding whether to accept a case is that the suspected fraud appears to be so serious or complex that its investigation should be carried out by those responsible for its prosecution,’’ says the SFO in its website. ’’The SFO could not - and does not - take on every referred case of suspected fraud. SFO resources must be focussed on major and complicated fraud.’’ The SFO says factors considered when accepting to investigate a case include the fact that the value of the alleged fraud exceeds �1 million (approx. 2bn/-). In Tanzania, the SFO has notably been involved in investigations into the $41m military radar scandal. British authorities are trying to recover an estimated �1.5 million (approx. 3bn/-) in the international scam involving the theft of luxury vehicles in the UK, and their subsequent exportation for sale in Tanzania and neighbouring Kenya. A Tanzanian national identified as Mponjoli Malakasuka (36) was convicted in the UK last year of charges connected to the suspected car theft racket, and sentenced to three and a half years in prison. The fraud involving Malakasuka saw dozens of prestige cars such as Aston Martins, Range Rovers and BMWs stolen from wealthy areas in the Midlands, UK, and then exported in sealed shipping containers to Tanzania. Malakasuka was arrested in 2007 when police ran a check on his Mercedes and found it was stolen. The Tanzanian and his associates had rented prestige high-value cars which were then reported stolen to the insurance company. The gang also swiped luxury cars from driveways by fishing car keys through letterboxes across the West Midlands, Staffordshire, the north and London. At least twice Malakasuka paid for two Range Rover Sports cars and then reported them stolen to claim on the insurance. Financial investigators from the UK’s Economic Crime Team recovered five cars in a 10-day spell in 2007, but many more were thought to have been smuggled abroad through Felixstowe or Southampton docks hidden in containers. The racket was busted when an eagle-eyed manager with a car hire company noticed that many of the cars reported stolen had been hired using the same credit card. He alerted police and, using a tracking device, they waited for a match to come up. When it did, and one of the supposedly stolen vehicles was reported driving along West Bromwich High Street, police raced to the scene and caught Malakasuka at the wheel. A UK financial investigator, acting Detective Sergeant Chris Harris, said: ’’It’s incredible to think a global investigation could come from such a small piece of information.’’ He added: ’’But the rental firm smelled a rat, let us know and when we got the shout we arrested him (Malakasuka). Then the inquiry just ran and ran.’’ The Tanzanian national eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal at Wolverhampton Crown Court. He was the only person convicted for the car ringing racket, but police believe he worked as part of a gang. Det Sgt Harris added: ’’What started as an inquiry into a rented car that had not been returned spiralled into an investigation into a global fraud. Much of the international element of it has now been passed to the Serious Fraud Office, but we’re proud to say we played our part.’’ A spokesman for the Serious Fraud Office said they did not wish to comment on the investigation.