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Organised car theft becoming big business

Updated February 08, 2016

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Street crimes in our cities may be going up or down, but one thing is evident that the criminals are getting organised – certainly the car thieves in the Islamabad region. Demand for cars is growing and the underworld is active to meet it.

Last week, the capital police arrested a man wanted by their Anti-Car Lifting Cell (ACLC) for being involved in buying and selling a car stolen in Jahangira District Nowshera. His two accomplices in the trade had given him out after ACLC arrested them in October.

Police investigators say the three had formed a gang not for stealing cars but for buying and selling stolen cars. A team of ACLC got their latest catch on receiving a tip that the gang was bringing a grey-colour, Model 2006 Honda City to Islamabad to put up for sale in a car showroom,

It lay in wait for the car and intercepted it at Chungi No. 26. The two persons sitting in the car failed to produce the documents of the vehicle and were detained, along with the car.

The car driver, Mohammad Ayoub, a native of Jahangira, district Nowshera, told interrogators that he was working for a Gujranwala citizen, Ghulam Rabbani, who had sent him to Swabi to purchase the car from Naeem and drive it to Islamabad.

With Ayoub and his co-rider Mohammad Azam in police custody, Rabbani, who Ayoub said was connected to the underworld and purchased stolen vehicles from them, disappeared. Ayoub and Azam tried to secure bail several times but were refused each time.

Their last bail application was rejected by the Islamabad High Court.

Last week the ACLC received information that the man it was looking for was hiding in Jahangira. A raid on his in-laws house yielded the ACLC not only the man but also a stolen Mehran car.

Police officials say Rabbani revealed his connections with what he called ‘receivers’ of stolen cars who operate “all over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

In the parlance of the underworld, a ‘receiver’ is a man who purchases vehicles from auto-thieves or a ‘carrier’ – that is the man transporting the stolen vehicle to the ‘receiver’.

And the nexus of all three is most active in Punjab. The ‘receiver’ pays for a stolen Mehran between Rs70,000 to Rs90,000, for a Toyota or Honda Rs120,000 to Rs150,000 for models dating 2008.

Next the stolen car is transported to Darra where forgers takeover the task of changing its engine and chassis numbers. Expert hands scrape the original numbers and emboss the new ones.

But the real work of making the tampered car genuine is done somewhere else – in the Excise and Taxation Offices (ETOs) of the government.

“For that engine and chassis numbers of cars of same make, model, and colour are used,” say ACLC investigators. “An ETO keeps all such details of a car registered with it.”

However, the nexus with the ETOs is only suspected and not yet established, according to the police.

Anyway, once the matching details are available, other forgers step in to fabricate bogus documents.

This process is called “doubling”, meaning two cars on the road with same registration data and passing for ‘genuine’, though one of them is stolen with forged documents. And up to Rs30,000 is all that the ‘doubling’ costs to its seller.

Random checks cannot detect the forgery. Only forensic tests of engine and chassis numbers in a sophisticated lab can do that.

Ultimately, the remade stolen cars end up as “genuine” at showrooms in Islamabad and other cities in Punjab and or sold at market rates with the connivance of their owners.

But the ACLC has found that the sellers are smart enough not to use their genuine CNIC IDs in closing the deals.

And so the makers of dirty deals escape the hands of law. All a suspect showroom owner has to do is to make the excuse that he only let the culprits use his facility to park and dispose of their vehicle.

There is big money in the trade and ACLC sources said the gang members they caught have been in business for six years.

Indeed, jail serves as a sales promotion venue for them as they strike acquaintances with other hard-core criminals. After their release from prison – mostly on bail because few cases reach the prosecution stage - the contacts developed there help them expand their business.

Even those put on trial get off easy as they are charged with defrauding their victims. Prosecutors rue that it is a bailable offence and the punishment for it is meagre.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2016