Here
and
Now

kuchikomi

Where, oh where has my little car gone?

35 Comments

Five years ago, Sagamihara City resident Atsuko Kuwata's Toyota Land cruiser was stolen. In May of this year, the car turned up at an unexpected place: Nairobi, Kenya.

A man working at a local auto parts shop in Nairobi had purchased the Land Cruiser from a used car dealership. Shown a photo, Kuwata immediately recognized the car, since she had configured it with options for snowy road conditions.

"It's really strange to see a car like that in Africa, of all places," she tells Takarajima (October).

Kuwata's 4X fell victim to an international network of auto thieves operating in Japan. Adept at defeating immobilizer anti-theft devices, the cars stolen wind up in the unlikeliest of places.

A fatal traffic accident in Nagoya last February, when a car being driven by a Brazilian of Japanese descent slammed into three pedestrians, put investigators on the trail. Upon interrogating the suspect, police found he belonged to a ring of 49 car thieves suspected of having stolen some 650 vehicles valued at 1.8 billion yen over the previous five years.

The gang's modus operandi was for Brazilians to steal the cars, and deliver them to Afghans, who would disassemble them in chop shops and store the components in shipping containers until they could be transported abroad.

The thieves were able to steal vehicles such as Land Cruisers and Nissan Skylines equipped with electronic anti-theft devices that prevent their engines from starting unless the correct ID code is input. Currently, some 40% of new vehicles are equipped with such devices, and they have halved the number of thefts compared with five years ago.

But a fiendishly clever device was developed to override anti-theft circuitry. Its existence first became known about 10 years ago when one fell into the hands of law enforcement officials in Germany. Current versions of the code-cracking "red box," believed made in China, sell on the Internet for as little as 20,000 or 30,000 yen.

To crack down on exports of stolen cars, Japanese customs agents are supposed to inspect the vehicle's body number and verify it's not on a list of reported thefts. But the numbers are only stamped on a single part, and disassembly forces customs staff to hunt for needles in haystacks.

The next step for the stolen vehicle is Dubai, UAE, which is said to be the world's largest marketplace for used cars. There, the components are reassembled, given a new coat of paint and re-exported.

Shin Inoue, a Japanese working in Dubai, has seen such shops and was impressed by how well they restore the cars. "They do a beautiful job fixing up beat-up cars," he tells Takarajima. "Their techniques are so good it's frightening."

"In Dubai, if a potential customer tells one of these operators, 'I want one of these,' he'll arrange to have one stolen," Inoue adds.

In east Africa four years ago, checks at roadblocks operated jointly by INTERPOL and local police departments identified over 1,000 vehicles as having been reported stolen. Among the owners of the stolen models were one of that country's cabinet ministers and a three-time winner of the Boston Marathon. But because of the complexities of investigation and the chain of evidence, foreign police seldom act on requests for cooperation with their Japanese counterparts.

Journalist Takeshi Natsuhara says the stolen car market has shifted to Dubai and Africa since 2000, following adoption of market economies in Russia and mainland China, which had previously been the destinations for vehicles purloined in Japan.

According to customs data from the Ministry of Finance, 89,966 used vehicles were exported to the UAE in 2009. Other African destinations included South Africa (55,304 units, 3rd place); Kenya (44,699 units, 6th place); Uganda (17,637 units, 12th place); and Tanzania (17,609 units, 13th place). The article did not speculate on what percentage of these were stolen.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

35 Comments
Login to comment

enricopallazzio.

Who NOT read the insurance policy you signed or ask them directly?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I asked my wife if our car's insurance covered "theft". She had no idea. No idea! I thought that coverage for theft was a given, but then I asked other Japanese people and have still not gotten a "Yes" or "No" answer, just "Gee, I dunno."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"There is a reason why Japanese cars are the most popular throughout much of the world. And a reason to why American cars isn't."

Actually I'd say it has more to do with the research showing that 60% of Japanese will not report their car stolen... Imagine that !

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"auto thieves"

What the heck is wrong with some people?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is a reason why Japanese cars are the most popular throughout much of the world. And a reason to why American cars isn't.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yes, the cars get disasembled and put back together on the other end. It's A LOT easier than you think. Only takes a few hours and a couple of guys getting paid a little bit of money. It's FAR FAR cheaper to do it that way than to buy it out right. Also, by "disasembling" the car, it doesn't mean stripping it completely apart. For international shipping of auto's, it only means that it can't "roll" to be called a "junk or parts" car. They remove the wheels (actually the subframe as a whole which takes minutes) and the engine and drivetrain (which takes less than an hour). To "disasemble" a car for Int. transport as "parts" it takes less than 2hrs of work. Shipping it as "parts" gets it through customs much easier and avoids many inspections. I know, I've done it before (legally).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Like mistwizard I'm not sure this article is that accurate. The cars that get stolen and whisked away in no time (im my case a Nissan GTR bought at auction, stolen four hours after delivery to my house and being driven in Hong Kong a month later) are high value vehicles with a ready market.

They dont get stripped down, unless for sale as parts, or it destroys the value let alone increases overhead. The thieves are very efficient. The car gets lifted and goes into a container very quickly. Some hooky paperwork gets attached to it and then the whole lot gets lost in amongst the thousands of other containers then get shipped daily. Theres no way for the police to get track of everything. Its a numbers game and not limited to Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All cars should come with a GPS tracker so the owner can locate his/her stolen vehicle.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"...a Brazilian of Japanese descent..."

Shall we comment more...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yellow Hat and the local HomeCenter have the tools and the paints, tuch up pens etc.

If you want to pay through the nose for substandard products, sure.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yellow Hat and the local HomeCenter have the tools and the paints, tuch up pens etc.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Steal the car, take it apart, ship, reassemble. All the hands and money that requires sounds more expensive than just buying the car used. I don't think I trust this piece.

Really? I can have an engine out of a car in an hour. With friends, I have done engine/transmission swaps in an afternoon, including beer breaks. With the right tools and a haynes manual, I am confident that I could strip any car down to the frame in an 8 hour day.

Cars are designed to be put together easily, which means they are designed to come apart easily. A crew of four people could easily have a box of parts - disassembled properly - on the road inside of a day. Two days if paint is involved.

There isn't a lot of time or money to be invested in an operation like this - which is why you find things like this worldwide.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sales is negotiated by foreigners for the obvious reason that it is difficult for the Japanese to do that. The reassembling, cutting up etc are done with cheap labor. The yard owner provides accomodation and food and ofcourse the visas for the foreigners. The containers which serve as accomodation in some yards come with toilets attached!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why do foreigners get paranoid with the slightest mention of a nationality in the news article? Where does it say that it is the foreigners who are running these schemes? Anyway, for those interested in the numbers of the cars exported to the top destinations visit http://tradecarsjapanview.wordpress.com/ Should tell how many containers are shipped each month.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Either..

The Yakuza has lost its grip on the nation and let foreigners control the docks HAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!

Or, the Yakuza is taking a cut of the profits. Seems like they are not so nationalistic nor protective of the nation's citizens anymore.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When was a Toyota Land Cruiser a little car?

Perhaps JT's headline writer once worked as a kindergarten teacher. But it's less abrasive than 'Bad Brazilians, awful Afghans running rapacious ripoff ring'.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When was a Toyota Land Cruiser a little car?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Steal the car, take it apart, ship, reassemble. All the hands and money that requires sounds more expensive than just buying the car used. I don't think I trust this piece.

Me neither - it's the latest dangerous foreigner scare. I've seen shock horror reports on TV to that effect. I'm sure some theft is going on, and I would be mightily upset if it was my car, but I don't believe the scale of it is anything like they're painting it. Coming from London, vehicle theft was a monthly fact of life, but since I've been here, so far, I've never met anyone who's told me of having their car stolen. Added to that, anything that makes good money has to give its cut to the Yakuza, Second, knowing how #nal officials are are with any foreigner with any kind of documentation, if this is indeed happening, noone can convince me that it isn't happening with high-up payoffs to look the other way It's irritating to see this blown up into the latest in a line of devious foreigners doing dirty deeds. If I'm not mistaken, there were a load of raids on scrapyards around the country, about a month ago, and according to the official version, of all the raids carried out, a pretty small number of suspected thefts got caught in the net. There were some other, unrelated things they got a few people on, such as visa violations, or not having the correct permits, but basically, very little turned up. Meanwhile, the Yaks operate untouched out of offices for years, and not a thing happens.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Forgot to mention that on the other side, in East Africa, it is the NGOs and other Humanitarian organsiations that are placing these orders. SO it is just like that Angelina Jolie's movie, Beyond Borders.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Afghan people in this business are busy with what they are here to do. There is an auction on Saturdays in Oyama.As well is in Saitama and other places on certain days, an if you really want to see hem with your own eyes, you can visit.But then you have to be a membr of these auction houses. And only a serious Japanese person can get membership. So now can you figure how this works. Most of the time, there is a Japanese person on the tip of the pyramid. Mistwizard, used car and part buyers, they talk about how many containers a month; Customs, shipping agent, car portal owners are all part of this set up. So they all get thier share and more.

Right now,interesting things happening in East Africa. And on the other hand, Police and NPA are all tightening their grip.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I know some guys in the export business and they all know it's a big problem. You have to be really careful about the paper trail on cars you procure to sell to Africa or Australia. Same thing happens with US cars stolen and sent to South and Central America, drives the insurance boys up a wall.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Steal the car, take it apart, ship, reassemble. All the hands and money that requires sounds more expensive than just buying the car used. I don't think I trust this piece.

If it is true, I would think the solution would be to require more documentation for used parts, particularly if they go to the same kind of car. If they lie, and you look at the parts and you can tell they are for the same car, you know something is up. To get out of that, how are they going to ship all different parts by different containers? That would cost a fortune!.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Fiendishly clever foreigners eh. Well at least they think i and the other foreigners are intelligent, also fiendish. Wish these Jonny Foreigners like me would stop coming to Japan and creating disorder and making the locals live in fear.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"a Brazilian of Japanese descent What type of passport does this person carry?"

Obviously, at least a Brazilian one. Being of Japanese descent give them a special status of residence. I have been in Japan for seven years, and seldomly seen or heard about Afghans. They should be very easy to identify here, unless they are Japanese posing as Afghans to confuse the police and make the story believable to the Japanese audience.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

But the best part of this is:

"But because of the complexities of investigation and the chain of evidence, Japanese police seldom act on requests for cooperation with their Foreign counterparts".

Wait that's another story.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am glad I drive a quirky French car. Nobody wants that one.

And I can't be accused of

The crime here isn't stolen cars, the crime here is the wasteful attitude most Japanese people have towards their cars.

The vehicle is 10 years old!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@dano2002 Several years ago my bike got stolen in Tokyo, lock around the wheel, immobilizer and a cover. The whole lot disappeared from behind my aparto building. Strangely, or not, I got exactly the same response from the police AND my co-workers. It MUST be the Chinese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"a Brazilian of Japanese descent"

What type of passport does this person carry? If it's a Japanese passport then this person is Japanese, not Brazilian. I see this misleading sort of description so often.

Me too, and I'm sick of hearing it. But then again I always love telling Japanese people that I'm a Scots, Welsh, and Irish man of English descent. The dimwits.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I know where the little cars are going?

dano2002, spot on. This racket is being carried out in an organized and methodical way. From the surface, you can see how brokers and brokers of brokers are running this industry. Can you believe it that there is NO authority who supervises this trade. Because of people who want to make quick cash, the industry is run by non-japanese. Don't be surprised, the most respected person in one of the leading auctions in Tokyo is an Afghan National. Check this out for how some of the latest schemes are working http://tradecarsjapanview.wordpress.com/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Clean up after them? How is taking someone's car out of their garage and selling it cleaning up after them?

The surplus in used cars is causing theft of Land Cruisers and Lexus high-end cars? How does that work?

'The Japanese' were stuck until recently with crappy car inspection law that requires the 10-man+ inspection yearly after the 10th year you own the vehicle. Old habits die hard.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The crime here isn't stolen cars, the crime here is the wasteful attitude most Japanese people have towards their cars.

Seconded! The exporters are following the ecological mantra - reduce (to parts), re-use (for many years) and re-cycle (break into parts and then make up into a "new" product). If Japanese would use their vehicles for another 100,000 kms, there wouldn't be such a need for the rest of the world to clean up after them. The stolen cars are an issue, but a much bigger crime is the wanton waste of precious resources on perfectly usable goods.

As for the criminal aspect of this, if this racket isn't giving it's cut to organised crime, it's not happening in Japan. They always get the furriners with their clean-ups, never go for those who allow it to happen in exchange for a cut.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"a Brazilian of Japanese descent"

What type of passport does this person carry? If it's a Japanese passport then this person is Japanese, not Brazilian. I see this misleading sort of description so often.

As for car theft, what this article fails to mention is that the Japanese "throw away" mentality has resulted in it having a huge surplus of used cars. Japanese people generally won't touch a car over 7 years old, and prefer to buy new, so what happens to the 10+ year old cars? ... well, I'm driving one, and it's still a nice looking car and there's nothing wrong with it, but all the others? They get shipped out of the country to the places mentioned in the article. Without these places Japan would sink under the weight of all the perfectly usable cars it refuses to buy.

The crime here isn't stolen cars, the crime here is the wasteful attitude most Japanese people have towards their cars.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is a solution for this in the future:

All main parts of a car will contain a unique small RFID chip. Then even if disassembled, the ownership can be proven and traced. Also this way fake replacement parts can be detected.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is no way the "Afgans" can export the cars w/o Japanese involved.

The fast amount of ships every day makes it impossible to prevent smuggling, as the example of human trafficking shows (see below link); and it is much more complex to check the legality of machines or parts that are being exported compared to passports of people, especially as paperwork can be easily forged.

(see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VIRIVN9KXM (approx. 2:20 min.).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is no way the "Afgans" can export the cars w/o Japanese involved.

I had my motorcycle stolen and the jcops said "Chinese". If so, then how do the Chinese get the bikes through customs? I would expect that customs officials are looking closely at any shipping containers involving Chinese and/or Afgans.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites