Cross Border Crime

A criminal organization specialized in the theft, falsification and receipt of vehicles for sale on the international market has been dismantled

The Spanish Civil Guard, within the framework of the operation “Z-Babylon”, has dismantled an international criminal organisation specialising in the theft and counterfeiting of vehicles and their subsequent transport to Mauritania, Senegal, Poland and Ukraine. There the vehicles were introduced into the legal second-hand vehicle market. In total, 25 people have been arrested. 19 of these arrests took place in Spain, four in France and two in Poland.

The investigation began in November 2021 when the Central Operational Unit of the Civil Guard detected the shipment of four vehicles stolen in Madrid that were being transported through a road vehicle transport company, bound for a port on the French Atlantic coast.

These vehicles had a very similar pattern: they were high-end hybrid vehicles, they had forged French number plates and none of them showed signs of being broken into. In addition, they were all stolen in different locations near Madrid.

Following these events, the Civil Guard, together with the police authorities of France, Belgium, Poland and Austria, thanks to coordination with EUROPOL, was able to learn both the final destination of the vehicles and their relationship with an active criminal organisation based in France and Belgium specialising in the theft of high-end vehicles in several European countries.

Modus operandi

As regards the part of the organisation that operated in our country, the UCO identified two Moroccan men living in Madrid and Malaga as the main perpetrators. They were the ones who determined which makes and models of vehicles were to be stolen as the most in-demand, at the same time supplying the documents and chassis numbers to be engraved on them, as well as the falsified French number plates.

Once the vehicles they wanted to steal were located, and using computer tools and malicious software developed by the organization itself, they altered the manufacturer’s security measures, managing to start the vehicle in a few minutes without any type of tampering.

Once stolen and after a “cooling off” period that ruled out any type of geolocation, the vehicle, now in a safe place, was modified in its physical records, such as chassis number and manufacturer identification stickers, making them match with legal vehicles registered in France.

Transport to your final destination in Mauritania, Senegal and Poland

With the falsified vehicles having the external appearance and documentation of a legal vehicle registered in France, the organisation used road transport companies – mainly Spanish and Lithuanian – to transport them to the main French ports, where they were shipped to Mauritania or Senegal.

Similarly, several of the stolen vehicles were driven by members of the organisation itself to different locations in Poland where they were introduced into the market through companies that buy and sell used vehicles.

It is worth noting that the degree of falsification of the identification elements on the stolen vehicles allowed them to easily avoid police and customs controls on this type of transport, even when exporting outside the EU.

Franco-Spanish judicial and police cooperation

The success of this operation is largely based on the creation of a joint investigation team within EUROJUST and EUROPOL. Thanks to this, the bilateral exchange of information between the countries concerned has made it possible to uncover the extent to which the crimes investigated extend beyond the borders of the EU.

In this way, it was possible to identify a Mauritanian citizen residing in France with a criminal record in that country for similar crimes, who, for the investigators of this operation, was the person most responsible for coordinating the preparation of the falsified French documents, the contracting of insurance for the stolen vehicles, as well as chartering the vehicles to Africa.

Another key figure in the dismantled organisation was the right-hand man of this Mauritanian citizen, a Moroccan citizen based in Brussels, who played a key role in coordinating all the branches of this organisation in the different countries where they operated, personally taking charge of any incident that arose, from the theft of vehicles in Spain to their final transport within and outside the European Union.

This operation was directed in Spain by the 30th Court of Instruction in Madrid and carried out by the Automobile Crime Section of the Central Operational Unit of the Civil Guard.