Stolen-car crackdown drives drivers off the road

May 9, 2006

By Bogonko Bosire

Nairobi, Kenya - An Interpol operation to recover thousands of stolen cars in east Africa is easing congestion on the region's traffic-choked roads as fearful motorists leave their cars at home.

Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan police are prowling for purloined Pajeros, Pathfinders and Preludes - and owners of luxury car owners who may have wittingly or unwittingly bought a stolen vehicle are staying off the streets.

Ugandan Henry Ssemwanga said: "I don't know whether mine is clean or not but I'd rather not tempt fate."

His Land Cruiser is among the models most targeted for spot checks. Hundreds of mainly late-model luxury SUV's have been impounded in the three nations that make up the East African Community (EAC) since the operation began in April.

Interpol said in a statement a large percentage of such cars in the EAC countries were believed to be stolen but many were bought by unsuspecting buyers from unscrupulous dealers at home and in countries such as Dubai.

It said Dubai was a major transit point for cars stolen from Japan, South Africa, the United Kingdom and other countries; the crackdown was a key test of its stolen car data base and would be expanded to central and southern Africa this year.

East African business moguls and industry titans, government ministers, lawmakers and a prominent athlete - all claiming ignorance of the provenance of their vehicles - have been caught up in the investigation.

The spot checks began in Tanzania on April 18; nearly 20 percent of cars inspected were found to to be suspect with 29 confirmed stolen, 31 believed stolen and 32 with altered identification numbers.

A week later in Kenya, 107 cars were identified as stolen, including one belonging to information minister Mutahi Kagwe and several owned by members of parliament who said they purchased their vehicles legally from Dubai.

Among those stopped was 2006 Boston Marathon champion Robert Cheruyoit.

He said: "I was shocked because I didn't know I was driving a stolen car. I paid 2.5-million (about R212 500) for it."

Kenyan police also recovered scores of illegal weapons and arrested nearly 150 illegal immigrants.

The spot checks then moved on to Uganda where last week police impounded 137 suspect vehicles, 52 of which turned out to have been stolen.

BMW seized

Kampala resident Jimmy Mwanga's BMW was seized by Ugandan police.

He said: "If I knew this car was stolen, I wouldn't have bought it, but now I have a loan to service - can't accept it being impounded."

Ugandan police chief Elizabeth Kuteesa said the suspect vehicles would be shipped back to their cities of origin.

"Even those hidden will be found eventually," she said.

The crackdown has raised concerns that police in the region, already perceived as corrupt by many, will use the operation to seek bribes from innocent motorists and sparked criticism of governments.

Collecting taxes

Uganda's independent Monitor newspaper said in an editorial last week: "The government has been collecting taxes on stolen property instead of preventing it from entering the country."

Kenya's Standard newspaper said unsuspecting buyers were victims of "complex international crime" that was "depriving innocent people of their hard-earned money and allowing the criminals to smile all the way to the bank." - Sapa-AFP

Article sourced from http://www.motoring.co.za/index.php?fArticleId=3236079

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