Be warned! You could be driving a ‘written-off’ car

Once a salvage is secured, the cartel steals a car, which they dismantle and change its chassis and engine numbers to correspond with the logbook details of the salvage.
A new trend is emerging in Nairobi and other major towns where newly imported vehicles are being sold for as little as Sh80,000.

Some crafty dealers scramble for cars written off after road accidents to the extent of bribing agents selling the damaged cars.

This secret trade is being driven by racketeers who run scrap yards and garages. Here, cars are canibalised from the salvages are sold in the garages and yards, which act as a front for the criminals. They operate with the backing of some crooked police officers.

At the bottom of the multi-million racket are armed robbers and beautiful girls who spike the drinks of unsuspecting victims.

Our investigations show that the crooks have roped in mechanics and some ‘auctioneers’ to sell them written-off accident vehicles when and if they occur.

We found out that security guards are recruited as scouts to spy on vehicle owners in the same estates they guard. They are paid between Sh20,000 and Sh40,000 for useful tips, which lead to a successful heist of the targeted car.

The crooks have spanned their criminal web along Kangundo Road as well as Komarock, which are their bases, although they have outstations in other parts of the city such as Kariobangi and Murang’a Road.

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We have infiltrated the racket, and some operators who have fallen off with their crooked colleagues have given out the details of the deadly trade where there is no honour among thieves. Brothers easily betray their kin just to save their illegal empires.

This is how one family runs its criminal outfit.

“We have several garages and yards along Kangundo Road. Our main mission is to secure salvaged cars with the most recent registration numbers. Because salvages are on high demand, at times we bribe insurance agents with Sh200,000 or more,” explains an insider.

The insider, who has fallen out with his partners, where three brothers and two sisters are all operating garages, says the highest robbers are paid for a stolen vehicle is Sh80,000.

Our source says one of the most notorious gangs in the city is made up of a patriarch, who is in his 60s, his three sons and two daughters who are all in this trade.

When the 28-year-old car robber was nabbed, some sympathetic police officer contacted the family but the brothers disowned him for fear that he would disclose that he had been selling stolen cars to them.

“I was shocked when the brothers described their sibling who had been supplying them with stolen cars as a dangerous liability and he was executed. Later, the father of one was interred in a low key ceremony in Ishiara, Embu County,” says the source.

The family, our investigations disclosed, runs a number of garages and shops, which sell old parts cannibalised from salvages as well as stolen cars fitted with number plates from the salvages.

Back to the trade, once the wreckage is secured, the kingpin then tasks his men to look for the same model. Like vultures, gun-wielding hoodlums and hookers armed with heavy doses of ketamine (an anaesthetic used to induce loss of consciousness and relieve pain) rove around the city looking for targets.

Inside the reinforced estates, watchmen employed to guard their employers’ properties and lives whisper away the secrets and let in the robbers who deactivate the alarm systems and use master keys to gain entry.

”Our enterprise has employed a number of experts in car wiring systems. These are the people he uses to bypass the ignition, and short circuit the system so as to start the car without a key,” another source says.

These are the same experts who are deployed to dismantle the car tracking system to avoid being followed.

High tech gadget

A private investigator, Steve Odero, recalls how he once followed a signal from a stolen car all the way to Nyeri only to stumble on the microchip dumped in a thicket by the road.

“All along, the car was being dismantled in a city garage in Kariobangi. I later discovered that the car, a Toyota Belta, was later sold in a yard to an unsuspecting buyer. I had no hard evidence to prove that the car belonged to my clients,” says Odero.

Our sources intimated that once a car is stolen, the engine and chassis number are juxtaposed in the appropriate areas. The crooks have a high tech gadget capable of overwriting on the old identity. The logbook and identities of the written-off car are then used to legitimise the stolen car.

“A friend recently went mad after he used the Sh1.8 million he had been given as his pension to buy a vehicle along Murang’a Road in Nairobi. A day after the purchase, he was arrested in Thika and told that his vehicle was stolen. He had to buy his freedom with Sh100,000 and forfeit the vehicle,” says Peter Misiku.

Odero shares the experience of one of his clients, David Mangi, who was hired by two women in Busia and contracted to drive them to Nairobi.

“The two women paid him Sh15,000 and also to fueled his car to and from Busia. When they reached Nairobi, he shared a drink with them at a bar in Tassia. His drink was spiked and he was robbed of the car. He was dumped unconscious in Utawala. His car has never been found,” says Odero.

The use of salvage to sanitise stolen cars, the Association of Kenya Insurers (AKI) says, is reemerging, explaining that this is a departure from the past when salvages have been used by criminals to loge fraudulent insurance claims.

According to AKI Chief Executive Officer Tom Gichuhi, salvages have been misused in the past and are at one time being used to lodge fraudulent claims.

The registration details such as logbook, engine and chassis number were used to lodge fraudulent claims by conmen who had a habit of buying the wrecks, which they later insured and reported as lost a few months later.

“We have established fraud control measures where the data of all insured vehicles and policyholders is posted in a central platform managed by AKi. This ensures once an accident claim is paid, nobody can lodge a similar claim,” Gichuhi says.

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Salvage carsWritten-off carsCartelsScammers