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Luxury car importers in limbo after car theft syndicate bust

Port workers and officials from Kenya Revenue Authority watch as one of the four containers loaded with three V8 Range Rovers and a Mercidece Benz is loaded into a ship to be shipped back to Britain, November 01, 2019. [File, Standard]

The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) has flagged a transnational car theft ring that has ties to Asian, African and European networks that ship stolen luxury vehicles to Kenya for huge profits.

Kebs, which has sought the assistance of the global police agency, Interpol, in tracking down the criminal cartels linked the cross-border criminal car theft syndicate to the four regions covered by one of the international firms mandated to inspect the vehicles.

A former governor was recently revealed as among wealthy and unsuspecting Kenyans who fell prey to a syndicate said to be smuggling stolen luxury cars from the UK.

Kebs revealed on June 11 that the syndicate had found a new route to sneak the vehicles into the country from Europe without inspection.

The unnamed governor is said to have bought a Range Rover Vogue from Dubai for Sh9.9 million, which was then stolen in the UK and smuggled into Kenya through Dubai.

According to a report by the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service in the UK, the owner of the vehicle was still paying taxes to the UK government.

“The chassis number displayed on this car is a 2020 car, the car you have, is actually a 2019 model and not a 2020 model," said the agency.

Imported used cars from Japan, Europe and the Middle East such as popular models Toyota Prado, Ford Ranger, Toyota Mark X, BMW, Mercedes and Land Rover have for years offered an affordable route to vehicle ownership in Kenya.

Kebs often contracts agencies to inspect cars destined for Kenya from across the globe under the Pre-Export Verification of Conformity programme (PVOC).

Quality Inspection Services Inc Japan (QISJ) offers pre-export verification of conformity services in Japan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United Kingdom, Singapore, Thailand and South Africa on behalf of the standards regulator. The Japanese firm was contracted by Kebs for the lucrative multi-billion-shillings tender on 19 August last year.

“We have noted with concern the increasing number of vehicles from these six countries being imported into the country for destination inspection having not gone through pre-inspection by QISJ and without genuine log books from the last country of registration,” said Kebs in a public notice.

“Some of these vehicles turn out to be stolen vehicles and/or more than eight years old contrary to requirements of Kenya standards 1515:2000, Code of Practice for inspection of road vehicles.” Consequently, Kebs said, importers must now seek clearance from the global police agency Interpol before bringing the cars into Kenya.

“Kebs wishes to notify the public and importers that all used motor vehicles coming into the country without certificates of roadworthiness issued by QISJ must be accompanied by Interpol clearance, logbook and the certificate of deregistration from the last country of registration and export documents from the country of origin,” said Kebs.

The announcement left car importers and buyers in limbo amid questions about why the regulator would pass on personal liability to individuals despite hiring the firm to conduct the inspection.

“Why would they ask to get Interpol clearance, yet they have given the inspection job to an international firm?” posed a city-based second-hand car importer who sought anonymity so as to speak freely. The Standard could not immediately reach Kebs and the Japanese inspection firm QISJ for comment by the time of going to press.

Over the years, the tenders for pre-export verification of motor vehicles and other goods destined for Kenya have often attracted intense bidder rivalry because of the fees that successful companies charge to do the job.

A winner of the tender generates revenues of nearly Sh1.5 billion a year, with the contract running for three years. It costs, for instance, between Sh16,895 and Sh24,525 for the inspection of an imported vehicle depending on the country of origin.

The prices of imported used cars have witnessed a sharp rise on the back of a weakening shilling against the dollar and global supply constraints, dimming demand, according to importers.

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