A crime with more than 500 victims robbed of tens of thousands of euros, which led to what has been described as the largest police operation in Belgium in the last 20 years. This week some 1,200 police in locations in Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia swooped on an organised gang suspected of running a fraud ring to trick car owners out of their vehicles. French police also searched seven premises just over the border
The gang is thought to originate in Eastern Europe, and to belong to the Roma community. The police operation on Tuesday took in a number of caravan parks. Thirty arrests were made, and dozens of cars seized, as well as other property.
“Given that many of the stolen cars will have been sold in the meantime, cash and other valuables were seized which may have been purchased with the money from the swindle,” said a spokesperson for the Brussels prosecutor’s office, which is coordinating the case. Among the property seized, around 100 caravans.
One victim explained the method used to Het Nieuwsblad. “I put an advertisement for my BMW M3 on two second-hand websites. A couple of days later some buyers got in touch, and a day later they were here in their Porsche Panamera. They barely negotiated over the price, but they insisted on paying with a bank app.”
On the spot, the buyers showed the seller that the money transfer had gone through, and left with the car. Later, however, he realised no money had come into his account, and did some searching. “Their company was apparently bankrupt, so a bank transfer was impossible. I had lost my car. When I posted my story on Facebook, they threatened to send a mafia gang after me. Then they offered to pay me part of the money, but that also never happened.”
According to investigators, that case was typical of the gangsters’ methods: little or no discussion of price, a supposed electronic payment ostentatiously made but never fulfilled, for mainly expensive cars. Other victims described having received photos of the thieves showing off in the stolen cars, or receiving threats of violence if they took their complaint to the police.
The case of the above witness had a happy ending, the paper reports. Days after the theft, the BMW was recovered on the forecourt of a motor trader in Germany, where it had been sold on. Others were not so lucky, and it will probably prove impossible to trace many of the stolen vehicles, worth a total in the tens of thousands of euros.
Those arrested face charges including fraud and criminal conspiracy. The prosecutor’s office is due to release more information on the case this evening.