Detectives tracing a Lexus stolen from London have ended up tracking it to Uganda – where it was found alongside a fleet of British cars worth more than £1 million.
The £50,000 SUV was fitted with a state-of-the-art tracking device, which activated as soon as it was taken from outside a property in west London.
As a result the National Crime Agency was able to use a smartphone app to trace the journey of the stolen RX450h 6,000 miles to the Uganda capital Kampala, where they were stunned to find it alongside 28 other luxury cars which had been stolen from the UK by the car-smuggling gang.
Luxury right-hand-drive cars are in great demand in land-locked Uganda, where locals still drive on the left as part of the British colonial legacy but import companies struggle to transport new vehicles.
The stolen Lexus which led to the discovery of the smuggling ring was taken in April, and later tracked to Le Havre, in France, where it was shipped across the Mediterranean Sea and through the Suez Canal down to the Middle Eastern nation of Oman.
It was then shipped to Mombasa in Kenya before being transported by road to Kampala – where locals drive on the right-hand side – in a steel container.
The tracking app even allowed police to identify how corrupt officials in both Kenya and Uganda, infiltrate the criminal syndicate and understand its operation.
National Crime Agency regional manager Paul Stanfield, who tracked the vehicle and uncovered the smuggling gang, said: ‘This investigation is an excellent example of the close co-operation between the UK National Crime Agency, National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, Interpol and [anti-fraud investigators] APU to tackle the increasing threat from organised vehicle crime.
‘Working with the police and security services in Kenya and Uganda, we have been able to dismantle an international criminal network that has been responsible for stealing high-value cars from the UK and exporting them to East Africa.’
It is believed that all of the stolen vehicles were equipped with keyless ignition, which the criminals managed to breach by using reprogrammed keys to start the cars up and drive off.
Car manufacturers, insurance companies and police forces are facing an uphill battle against the sophisticated method.
Since the start of the year, more than 40,000 cars have been stolen in London with a quarter of these using keyless technology.
In upmarket Kensington and Chelsea, officers are now stopping high-end vehicles being driven in the area after midnight, when many vehicle thefts take place.
The car-smuggling ring was broken up by both Mr Stanfield, with technology provided by APU Ltd.
‘Having seen how private and public sectors have worked hand-in-hand so perfectly during this investigation, I am in no doubt what it means for the success of future operations and the importance of collaboration and looking at organisations like APU,’ Mr Stanfield said.
The fleet of stolen cars, mainly made up of Range Rovers, BMWs, Audis and other prestige makes, is now in the process of being shipped back to the UK.