Africa News: Stolen vehicle recoveries South Africa-style

Africa News:  Stolen vehicle recoveries South Africa-style

South Africa is littered with "chop shops" – workshops that either break up stolen cars for spares, or modifies them (e.g. re-spraying, altering engine and chassis numbers, etc.) in order to disguise them. Most chop shops are patronised or run by car theft syndicates.

It's a huge – and very lucrative – business.

There are cases where tracking a single vehicle to a chop shop has resulted in busting large syndicates, arresting a number of criminals at once, and the recovery of a dozen or more stolen cars – not all of which were equipped with tracking devices.

Often these vehicle recoveries also lead to the recovery of stolen cash and other goods, the discovery of illegal immigrants, and the seizing of illegal drugs or weapons.

It used to be daily fodder for the local media, in the early days of vehicle tracking in this country, but car theft/hijacking has become such an everyday occurrence that only the weird and wacky cases make the headlines.

Telematics Update asked Tracker South Africa to submit the details of some of their more unusual recoveries:

Stolen car refurbished

By the time a Tracker customer reported the theft of his shabby VW Kombi, a few days had passed. The tracking device was activated anyway, and the vehicle was recovered – totally refurbished, re-sprayed, with new tyres and mags fitted and an expensive sound system installed. Poetic justice!

Hijackers share gun

Whlle a Tracker recovery team was in the process of arresting two hijackers, a third man arrived to fetch the gun his colleagues had just used. Apparently they only had one firearm between them, and it was the third guy's turn to do some hijacking.

Tracker cracks crime cartel

A routine track of a stolen car recently led Tracker's recovery crews and the SAPS to a veritable crime nest at a house in Johannesburg. The haul included false ID books and passports, 3,000 mandrax tablets, illegal firearms, drug-manufacturing equipment, bags of designer clothing labels, illegal currency and paper allegedly used in the manufacture of counterfeit US dollars.

Crime nest

Tracker recently recovered a vehicle from a home in Centurion where they found the kind of inventory that you'd expect to find on a Hollywood film set: an R5 rifle, 60 rounds of ammunition, a shotgun, two 9mm pistols, police uniforms, bullet-proof vests, fake vehicle registration plates, housebreaking equipment, balaclavas, court stationary – the list goes on and on. Three arrests were made.

Tracker identifies stolen goods drop-off point

Tracker and the SAPS recently recovered electronic appliances worth almost ZAR1 million in Cape Town after recovering a hijacked truck and then tracing its movements through its tracking device.

The truck, along with its cargo, was hijacked from a company's premises in Parrow. Within 45 minutes of the tracking device being activated, the truck was recovered – albeit with less than a third of its original load.

Tracker accessed the vehicle's movement history and investigated the co-ordinates of three sites where the truck had stopped prior to its recovery. Tracker and the SAPS Maitland Dog Unit managed to recover the entire load of appliances and electronic goods from one of the three locations.

In another Cape Town incident, the alleged hijackers of a vehicle were linked to the murder of a woman after her body was discovered at one of the sites where the hijacked vehicle had stopped prior to being recovered.

Fixed address and mobile chop shops

Tracker and Western Cape police recently discovered what officials believe may well be South Africa's first vehicle chop shop disguised as a house.

Tracker and the SAPS Cape Town Dog Unit tracked a hijacked vehicle to Khayalitsha, where the signal appeared to be coming from inside a house. The house was merely a shell, it's front made up of large zinc panels that could be removed to allow vehicles to be driven inside. The absence of interior walls created a spacious area for vehicles to be stripped.

Both the Tracker-equipped vehicle and another LDV, as well as numerous spare parts worth approximately ZAR300,000, were recovered from the scene.

The incident follows Tracker's recent discovery of another possible first for South Africa: a mobile chop shop in Soweto.

When Tracker's recovery crew tracked a signal that appeared to be coming from inside a large truck, they discovered a team of men inside the cargo section busy stripping the stolen vehicle.

Over the years, Tracker's technology has recovered vehicles from a number of interesting sites and settings such as large shipping containers, subterranean parking areas, wrapped in tinfoil, alongside large power stations, underground (in a crudely dug hole) and, once, under water.

Author: Sharon Gill, Freelance journalist

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