By HUDSON GUMBIHI
Have Kenyan car thieves found a new source in Tanzania?
This is the scenario that emerged as The Nairobian tried to dig into the underworld of trade in car spare parts.
Many motorists avoid licensed dealers preferring to buy accessories from shady outlets, which seem to have a link to the cross-border syndicate that begins in Arusha and ends at Kariobangi Light Industries.
Thieves travel to Tanzania where they lure young unsuspecting girls into the racket, which police admit is difficult to crack following a decision sometimes back, to strip them regulatory powers.
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Initially, Provincial Police Officers (PPOs) had the final say on who should own a spare parts shop. They licensed qualified applicants. But these powers were removed from them and given to town, municipal and city councils, whose vetting abilities are being questioned by police.
According to a police officer privy to the tricks employed before the targeted vehicles are shipped into Nairobi where they are cannibalised (stripped and broken down into components), the crafty thieves pass out as businessmen prospecting for opportunities in Tanzania.
“They entertain and dine with the girls who are later drawn into crime unknowingly,” said the officer elaborating that the Tanzanians, in the bid to avoid arousing suspicion, are duped into hiring cars on behalf of their visiting hosts.
“The girls present themselves to car-hire companies where they rent vehicles on behalf of their Kenyan friends,” the officer said recalling an incident last year where a Kenyan man linked to the syndicate was traced to Umoja estate.
The man was allegedly accused of stealing 10 Toyota Prados from Tanzania on diverse dates. We were unable to establish the extent of investigations into the matter since the officer said he lost track of the case.
Yet in another embarrassing incident in the same estate, an Administration Police Land Cruiser registration numbers GK A 400S disappeared without trace up to date. AP spokesman Masoud Mwinyi confirmed to The Nairobian that the Land Cruiser has not been recovered.
It had been parked outside their living quarters when it was discovered missing in the morning. The driver who had been assigned the new car, died a month later.
It is believed that the car was shipped to Tanzania in a well-orchestrated plan before being driven back to Nairobi where it was either dismantled or sold off in its entirety.
Police attribute the thriving business in the black market to lack of regulation from the councils who took the role from them.
It is suspected that some county officials are accomplices.
“We no longer issue licences. That is the work of the county authorities, some of who just dish out these documents without verification,” said Wilfred Mbithe, the head of police operations in Nairobi.
Back to Arusha, once a vehicle has been secured from the car-hire firm, it is sneaked to Nairobi after being driven around in Tanzania for a couple of days as the masterminds plot on how to shake-off the girl(s) who deliver it.
“I don’t know much about how they manage, but the little I gathered is that the Kenyan men excuse themselves to the girls pretending to run short errands before vanishing with the car,” the officer said.
There is an easy passage at the Namanga Border Point where advance arrangements involving corruptible customs officials are made.
So, armed with around Sh100,000, according to our source, one is able to steal a car from Tanzania. It is as simple as that – not a complicated crime.
Another common trick the thieves use is arming themselves with Kenyan vehicle plates registered in their real names to Tanzania. Once a car is rented to them, they replace the Tanzanian with Kenyan plate, then comfortably drive to Nairobi. And the labyrinth that is Kariobangi North estate is where the stolen cars are ‘cannibalised’ in buildings that are no-go zones to strangers and potential buyers of spare parts.
Only trusted brokers act as the link between the clients and sellers of the dismantled accessories.
The existence of the underground activity was further reinforced by a senior officer who was overheard confessing how his car had been fixed with spare parts bought from Kariobangi.
“I was worried about how I could bring my car back to the road, but when I was taken to Kariabongi, I got all the spare parts at affordable rates,” said the officer while animatedly relating to the experience to another officer over a drink.
Head of Flying Squad Nyale Munga said not only vehicles are being stolen from Tanzania where there is a market for those robbed from Kenya.
Munga decried existing loopholes in the spare parts licensing process, which unscrupulous dealers are exploiting to sustain the black market.
“It is difficult but we have tried our best in recovering some of the stolen cars. We are also aware of the cartels that are dismantling vehicles because of lack a proper regulatory mechanism within the spare parts sub-sector,” he added.
On a single day in the city, the unit handles on average five cases involving stolen vehicles, changed chassis or registration number plates. Munga identified Eastlands for car theft notoriety.
“In Kariobangi, the brokers will never allow you to know the exact location where the accessories are stored. Yours is to give description about the item you want then leave the rest to the broker who will bring you what you required,” said our source who showed this writer one of the brokers having a nap in his own car.