This is apparent from the report Strip- en omkatfabrieken from the research bureau Bureau Beke. Stolen cars are playing an increasingly important role in serious crime. They are not only traded, but are also used as vehicles in liquidations, robberies and in the transport of drugs, weapons and money.
The number of stolen vehicles has more than halved in the last thirty years, but for the first time there has been an upward trend this year. 1954 passenger cars were stolen in the first four months of 2022. A year ago there were still 1,638 in the same period. “These are numbers we are no longer used to. Because we are talking about an increase of almost twenty percent here and that worries us,” says André Bouwman of the National Intelligence and Expertise Center Vehicle Crime.
Bureau Beke’s report states that the theft of cars and the sale of parts or refitting cars has been highly professionalised. The researchers point to the more than sixty recyclable and stripping factories for cars that have been discovered in the Netherlands in the last six years. “Cars stolen in an organized context sometimes change into individual parts or identity within a few hours, after which the parts or the cars then end up back in the ‘upper world’,” the report says.† Countries where stolen-to-order vehicles are sold are mainly countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltic States and African countries.
For example, a Lamborghini stolen in the Netherlands was loaded onto a boat in Antwerp within hours of the theft and then sold with false papers in Dubai a short time later. “Despite the insurance company being able to trace the vehicle in question, it was powerless to recover the vehicle,” the report reads.
The recyclable and strip factories are mainly found in smaller villages in Brabant and Gelderland and are mainly located in sheds, garages and garage boxes. When they are converted, stolen cars are given a new identity through, for example, false papers. It happens that people unsuspectingly buy a car at a garage that looks good at first sight, but it is made up of parts from a damaged car and stolen parts. This can lead to life-threatening situations. Almost all parts are resold: from seats, rims and airbags to exhausts and mudguards.
Bureau Beke analyzed twenty investigations and discovered astonishing details. For example, a public prosecutor describes how he stepped into a shed and was ‘shocked to death’. It looked like two football fields with parts, he notes. Count and investigation showed that there were 3647 parts and 41 stolen cars came into view. Unique factory features such as chassis and engine numbers had been removed or made illegible. The recyclable and strip factories mainly came into the picture because of technical aids, such as trackers in cars. Integrated industrial site inspections by municipalities and the police and reports from citizens also led to these types of locations.
The perpetrators can be divided into two groups. There are smaller, mainly indigenous groups that steal, disassemble and sell the cars, and there are large organizations of sometimes dozens of people who work with a cell structure and who are managed from abroad.
At the beginning of this century, the European Union was enlarged with a large number of new Member States: Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania. ‘This expansion created opportunities, for example with regard to labor migration, but also risks. The criminal offender groups from these countries that focus on vehicle crime, among other things, were able to travel freely through Europe and thus enrich their criminal activities.’
The foreign groups are aware of the low probability of being caught and punishment in the Netherlands, according to Beke’s researchers. ‘The image of the Netherlands as a rich country where people can quickly and relatively easily earn money illegally, ensures that the Netherlands is seen as an attractive field of activity.’
‘Five to twelve’
Bureau Beke’s investigation shows that there is little priority in the Dutch investigation for organized robbery and for the omkat factories. That and the relatively low penalty promote this behavior in the view of practitioners.
The Public Prosecution Service acknowledges that there is too little knowledge and expertise. Beke’s researchers, for example, encountered a lack of good figures from the police regarding the number of strip and cat factories. The current investigation is therefore an exploratory study, the agency said. As far as the approach is concerned, it really is ‘five to twelve’, the researchers warn.