Saturday, December 12, 2015 3:07 am
A Toronto police chief says 500 luxury SUVs were stolen in the Greater Toronto Area this year as part of a sophisticated vehicle trafficking operation linked to Nigerian organized crime ring Black Axe, in which a Service Ontario employee allegedly fed vehicle owners’ details to criminals.
According to the police 18 people have been arrested and six more have been declared wanted. They face 640 criminal charges.
Police allege that the group’s two ringleaders were Joseph Mensah, 63 — whose charges include 73 counts of conspiracy — and Ehimen Ojemolon, 28, both of whom have previous convictions for similar thefts
A total of 200 vehicles were seized in containers headed for Nigeria and Ghana. The estimated value of those vehicles is $11 million, reported www.630ched.com.
Some of the vehicles were being sold new in Canada for between $60,000 and $80,000.
The vehicles were recovered from shipping containers with assistance from authorities in Spain and Belgium, said CBC News.
According to CBC, Toronto police told a press conference Friday morning that thieves stole the cars according to a “shopping list” handed down to them from higher ranking members in the ring, acquired vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and key codes from the Service Ontario employee and had keys cut by a locksmith, who was also arrested.
The cars were then taken to shipping yards in Montreal and Halifax and arrived in Nigeria and Ghana within days, where they sold for roughly half their market value, police said.
Police said the investigation, nicknamed Project CBG, began in the spring of 2015 after they noticed a string of luxury vehicle thefts in and around Toronto. When they began investigating, they noticed that the thefts weren’t one-offs, but rather part of an intricate web, they said.
“We had to decide as a police service and with our partner agencies whether we deal with the thefts at hand or we take the head of the snake off — so we went for the head of the snake,” Staff Insp. Mike Earl said
Police say the thefts accounted for about 10 per cent of all vehicles stolen in Toronto in 2015, totalling approximately $30 million dollars. Some vehicles were stolen from as far as Hamilton, Waterloo and Guelph, Ont.
Not all the vehicles were destined for West Africa. Police say some remained in Ontario, where they may have been sold to unsuspecting customers with new VINs.
Police say they are working with counterparts in the United States who have experience investigating crimes linked to Black Axe. The crime ring operates internationally and has been linked to money laundering scams of up to $5 billion dollars, police said.
*Read about the gang’s modus operandi here: Earl described the groups operation as “sophisticated.”
*With reports by CBC News