The Baltic Course  

Crooks and trucks

by Olga Pavuk

Juris Jekabsons, prosecutor at Latvian Customs Prosecution Office, has revealed some of the secrets behind criminal schemes used by the organized crime groups to import into Latvia cars and trucks stolen in Europe.

Photo: S.Romin

Until recently Latvian law enforcement agencies have managed to solve cases involving one, sometimes two stolen vehicles. The case described by Jekabsons was the first in Latvia to uncover illegal deals with stolen trucks by a whole gang of criminals. The investigation was opened in November 2000 by the Riga Economic Police. Since August 2003 the Customs Prosecution Office has been working on the case in close liaison with customs officials.

Gang members

Presently, Jekabsons said, a group of suspects have been identified and charges have already been brought against five of the perpetrators (including two officials). The gang consisted of two groups: one was stealing trucks in Europe (Germany and Spain) and fixed the papers to send the cars to Latvia, and the other one was sending drivers from Latvia to bring the trucks over to the country. The investigators still need to find out how the vehicles got through the customs on the border. It is clear, though, that there are people at the Latvian Road Traffic Safety Directorate (RTSD) who issued papers without actually inspecting the vehicle in question, an action illegal in itself.

The case presently has listed eight stolen trucks (Volvo FH12 and Scania) and nine semi-trailers (Schmitz, LAMBERET, Krone, etc.).

The criminal scheme involves a large number of accessories. In order to cover up their tracks, the criminals used several bogus companies in Latvia (FOK, Kartens, Grindes, Ivaga, Vintis, Noris, Spars) organized specifically for the purpose of selling the trucks. The investigators' files refer also to few motor transport companies (Vikauto, APS Transport, Anviko) and even a couple of leasing companies (Hansalizings, Unilizings). The final buyer for most of the stolen trucks was Vikauto but it has not been proved yet that the company was involved in the scheme.

A usual procedure...

The scheme used to take stolen trucks to Latvia, as it was described by the prosecutor, is probably the following. After stealing a truck in Germany (or Spain) the criminals alter the chassis number and fix the papers for the vehicle. Then the truck is sent to Latvia where the certificate required for registration of the vehicle with the RTSD is issued by the customs. The truck is registered in the name of a bogus company that had previously been incorporated with the help of some homeless person willing to lend his passport for a small fee (the police already has some names of such vagrants).

Afterwards the bogus company sells the truck to a Latvian carrier below the market price. The price difference is at least equal to the value-added tax (VAT) amount, but occasionally the vehicle is sold at the price several times below its actual value. For example, the original price for a car in Germany is 70,000 euros (of which the Latvian company gets refunded 18% as VAT). When shipping the truck to Latvia by ferry, the documents are forged as the boat crosses neutral waters. The new papers give a much lower value for the truck, and it is brought to Latvia at the cost of 20,000 euros with no VAT paid on the deal.

... as well as not so usual one  

This scheme involves some considerations. So a Scania truck has been brought to Latvia from Germany. The procedure has gone the following way:

•           July 20, 2002 – verification of vehicle's ID numbers in Latvia;

•           July 21 – the customs authorities issue a certificate allowing registration of the vehicle;

•           July 22 – the documents are checked at the RTSD, and the truck is registered in the name of Kartens Company with the help of a vagabond named Litvinovs;

•            September 3 – Kartens sells the truck to another company, e.g. Spars;

•            September 4 – Spars sells the truck to another company, e.g. Vikauto;

•            November 5 – the Latvian police finds through Internet that the vehicle's ID numbers had been forged and the truck had been stolen in Germany… on October, the 7th (?!).

Thus, the car was allegedly stolen in Germany a month after the vehicle was sold in Latvia. The prosecutors are now looking for the masterminds behind such an unusual deal.

Cartoon: S. Tulenev, Chas

Prosecutor's advice

A transport company should follow several rules in order to avoid purchasing cars that can lead to a lot of troubles: 

1. It is best to buy vehicles from an official dealer; there has not been a single case in Latvia when such dealers have been selling stolen trucks.

2. When buying a second-hand car directly from the owner, one should be especially cautious about vehicles which had changed hands several times just in few days.

3. One has to check the vehicle's history with the RTSD.

A general rule for all: regardless of the insurance, a carrier will lose the truck if it turns out that it is a wanted vehicle. It is twice unpleasant, if the stolen truck was bought on leasing terms.

Long way to court

As to the above-mentioned case about making stolen foreign trucks "legal" in Latvia, the files keep getting thicker with new names and details. Evidence has already been found about alleged foreign documents having been forged in Latvia. It's also true that investigators still need to identify owners of the stolen vehicles. There's still a long way to go before the case can be produced to the court. It is clear, though, what the Criminal Code says about such crooks: the gang members face 5-10 years in prison. 

The prosecutor thinks that the whole stuff is run as a real business but the real puppet masters in Europe are unlikely to be exposed. At the same time, it is quite likely that in this business the gang members work side by side with the owners of the stolen trucks.