Toyota parts nz wreckers: Humble work vans stolen for Middle East

Police say they have broken an international car-theft ring that shipped the parts of hundreds of stolen Toyota vans from Auckland to the Middle East. The humble Toyota Hiace – more workhorse than thoroughbred – looks an unlikely target for car thieves. But the van has been the most stolen model in Japan for the past two years because the parts are valued for their durability in the desert sands of countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Police saw a similar pattern emerge in Auckland over the past 18 months and launched Operation Beryl in April. More than 550 Toyota vans were stolen in that time, but only 18 per cent were recovered. The normal recovery rate is 70 per cent. The organised crime unit was tasked with investigating the unusual pattern and says the vans were stolen by thieves and sold to car wreckers for as little as $200 each. Police say the second-hand dealers dismantled the vans into spare parts, packing engines, transmissions, doors, wheels and chassis parts into freight containers. The containers were then allegedly shipped to the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Dubai and other ports on the east African coast. Once unloaded on the dock, the stolen parts were sold on the black market as spare parts and distributed to other countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. One man has been charged with the theft of 80 vans since November 2007 and a number of car wreckers in the industrial area of Otahuhu have been charged with receiving stolen goods. Police expect to lay further charges. Brendon Mathew Cooper, 39, was arrested on Friday last week and is facing 160 charges in connection with stealing and receiving the Toyotas. A search warrant was executed at his Pilkington Rd home in Panmure, where police say Cooper was running a backyard “chop-shop”. Worthless parts, such as seats and upholstery, were strewn across his driveway when the Weekend Herald visited the address. He appeared in the Auckland District Court this week and was denied bail until his next court appearance in late July. Police expect to charge a number of car dealers who were allegedly buying from Cooper. Four other men have been charged with receiving stolen vans, but not from Cooper, as a result of Operation Beryl. Stephen and Alikhan Noori, of AA Japanese Auto Parts, face 18 receiving charges, while Jai Narayan and Prasad Vikash, of Narayan Panelbeaters, face 23 charges. The Weekend Herald visited the two yards in Otahuhu, where both Alikhan Noori and Prasad Vikash said they did not know that the vans were stolen. Vikash said he had worked at the panelbeating shop for only five weeks and referred us to owner Jai Narayan. Narayan declined to comment without speaking in front of his lawyer. At AA Japanese Auto Parts, Alikhan Noori said he was unaware the vans were stolen and that he bought many from Trade Me and Trade and Exchange. Depending on the condition of the engine, Noori said he would pay between $1600 and $1800 for a second-hand Hiace. He said the vans were “very popular” in the Middle East and in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Stephen Noori said the credentials of anyone who sold vans to him were carefully checked, but he declined to comment further. Detective Sergeant Callum McNeill said Operation Beryl began when police intelligence noticed the unusually low recovery rate of stolen Toyota vans. He would not comment on the specific cases before the courts, but confirmed that further charges are likely to be laid Stolen vans are sold for up to $1500 each, says Mr McNeill. The engine parts are packed into containers. The containers are then trucked to the Ports of Tauranga, or Ports of Auckland, before being shipped to the United Arab Emirates and distributed on the black market. It takes police and Customs officials two days to unpack a container, then a further three days to identify stolen parts and repack the legitimate gear. One container had a complete 2006 Toyota Prada inside, too valuable to break down. Mr McNeill was unsure how much the New Zealand wreckers were paid for each container of stolen partsparts “but it’s obviously worth their while”. “A lot of these car wreckers are not complying with the Secondhand Dealers Act, not keeping full records or identification from people. They are turning a blind eye,” he said. “It’s a big problem. There’s heaps of people doing it. We’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg.”