POLICE in Spain have arrested 19 people, with a further five still under investigation, for the alleged theft of 85 vehicles.
The gang allegedly had the help of a local council member who helped them to obtain information about the stolen vehicles and clone licence plates of identical cars so they could be resold.
The 19 suspects were held for numerous crimes, including theft, forging documents, money laundering and belonging to a criminal organisation.
The detainees are reportedly of numerous nationalities, including Spanish, Greek, French, Romanian, Polish, Portuguese, Brazilian and Bulgarian.
It is believed the gang made more than € 1,500,000 in profit from the stolen vehicles.
The investigation began after a Spanish citizen complained to the police that he had received several tickets for speeding in places where he had not been driving. After analysing the information, it appeared that there were notable differences between the two vehicles.
Officers concluded that there must be two vehicles of the same make, model and license plate, meaning that one of the vehicles was a fake or “clone” of the original.
The owner of the clone was reportedly a man originally from Bulgaria, who had a record of smuggling stolen vehicles and forging documents. The man and his partner allegedly owned several vehicles in Bulgaria that were also registered in Spain.
The police discovered that the man acted with other criminals of various nationalities, who between them, falsified licence plates and vehicle documents so the cars could be sold on.
It was revealed that most of the cars were stolen in Madrid, and the criminals reportedly stalked their victims so they knew where they lived, where they parked their car and what time they went to work. They then used devices to override the car’s GPS device, so they could not be tracked, and used multiple security measures to avoid being detected.
The council member, who had access to public records, allegedly helped the gang obtain information about identical vehicles they could clone to resell the cars and later enlisted the help of his colleagues when he left his position.
The cars were then registered in various other European countries so there were two cars with the same documents and licence plates in circulation. Several cars were also stripped for parts which made them harder to trace.
As they were dealing with an international crime organisation, Spanish police enlisted the help of Portuguese and Bulgaria law enforcement to bring the criminals to justice, as well as the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation.