Colombia Dismantles International Car Theft Ring

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Colombian police have captured 18 members of a group that stole cars in southwest Colombia and resold them in neighboring countries, highlighting the ever more international nature of such criminal networks.

With the help of international police body Interpol, Colombian authorities uncovered an operation dedicated to car theft in the departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca and Nariño. The suspects, who were captured in the city of Cali on October 8, allegedly took the stolen vehicles to Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Bolivia by pretending to be tourists, reported El Pais.

Since investigations began a year ago, authorities have identified 82 cars stolen in the three departments that were later resold in neighboring countries. Meanwhile, Ecuadorean authorities reported that 862 tourist vehicles registered upon entering the country from Colombia over the Rumichaca Bridge between 2011 and 2012 never left.

According to authorities, the principal methods used by the car thieves were armed robbery, the targeting of unmonitored parked cars, and fraud. In some cases, the criminals allegedly opened car dealerships and paid 10 percent of the total cost of the cars to the suppliers before closing shop and leaving the country with the vehicles.

InSight Crime Analysis

The discovery of a major car theft ring in southwest Colombia follows an article published last year by El Pais, which reported that Cali was the Colombian city most affected by car theft, with 2,056 cars reported stolen in 2011. The case is also not without precedent; in early 2011, authorities dismantled an organization operating in the city that stole cars for resale in Ecuador and the Colombian coffee region. In February 2012, police captured a member of another group dedicated to the same activity.

The wide reach of the operation in the present case suggests the group maintained a network of criminal contacts in other countries. Car theft is a highly profitable activity in many Latin American countries, and in Brazil the crime has been found to help fuel the transnational drug trade, with cars exchanged for cocaine in Bolivia. In the past, lax policies on unregistered cars in Bolivia have provided car thieves in neighboring countries with a haven to legalize and commercialize stolen vehicles.

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