In an INTERPOL-supported operation in Spain targeting the trafficking of stolen vehicles, nearly 20 vehicles were recovered and some 15 individuals arrested. Led by the Spanish National Police, Operation Paso del Estrecho (which means ‘crossing the straits’), was conducted from 28 July to 1 August at the port of Algeciras in southern Spain, a known route used by organised criminal networks to smuggle cars stolen from throughout Europe into North Africa.
With the assistance of INTERPOL’s Stolen Motor Vehicles (SMV) unit, police monitored car ferries leaving the port en route to Morocco, with some 5,000 vehicles screened against INTERPOL’s SMV database. INTERPOL coordinated the deployment of 28 experts from seven countries to support the operation. The experts are members of the INTERPOL Stolen Motor Vehicles (SMV) Task Force, comprising police and private investigators who support member countries with operations targeting the theft and trafficking of motor vehicles. The INTERPOL SMV database contains more than 7 million records submitted by 128 member countries. In 2013, countries searched the database more than 125 million times, resulting in 117,000 positive hits. “Operation Paso del Estrecho was very important because it allowed us not only to detect and recover stolen vehicles from Spain and other European countries, but also to obtain crucial information that will allow us to continue our investigations into the organized crime groups dedicated to illegal vehicle trafficking,” said Ángel Arroyo Morales, Head of the vehicle crime investigation unit of the Spanish National Police Central Squad of Organized Crime. “There is no doubt that with strong cooperation between INTERPOL and police across Europe and beyond, we will continue to recover even more stolen vehicles before they can be used for criminal purposes,” he concluded. In addition, 15 people were arrested during the operation, including one Ukrainian and two Spanish nationals arrested in connection with a major investigation of the Central Squad of Organized Crime of the Spanish National Police.
They are suspected of being the masterminds behind a vast trafficking ring transporting stolen luxury cars between Spain and Ukraine, via Poland and Moldova. The stolen vehicles seized came from various European countries including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden, demonstrating the transnational character of this crime. “The trafficking of stolen vehicles is a crime that knows no borders. The only way to effectively combat the organized criminal networks behind this crime is therefore through coordinated joint actions, as evidenced by this successful operation,” said INTERPOL’s Director of Specialized Crime and Analysis, Glyn Lewis. Operation Paso del Estrecho is an annual initiative conducted by Spanish police in Algeciras – a major gateway between Europe and Africa which sees approximately 4.8 million people and 1.3 million vehicles pass through each year – to prevent stolen vehicles from leaving the country and to identify and disrupt the criminal groups responsible for the illicit trafficking. Highlighting the links between organized crime and the trafficking of stolen motor vehicles – which are often used in the commission of other serious crimes – is a key part of INTERPOL’s global Turn Back Crime campaign. The campaign aims to raise awareness of these hidden links, and of the very real effect these crimes can have on people’s daily lives.