Illict trafficking in motor vehicles

Other Names:
Smuggling stolen automobiles

Worldwide, organized transnational crime groups are becoming increasingly involved in illicit trafficking in motor vehicles, a criminal activity that, although considered low-risk, generates high profits. Thanks to well-organized criminal networks and sophisticated schemes, motor vehicles stolen in one region are easily smuggled to far-flung destinations. Insufficient cooperation among law enforcement agencies, lack of appropriate controls prior to the registration of a motor vehicle, corruption, legislative discrepancies with regard to bona fide possession of a motor vehicle in various regions of the world, a variety of registration practices and differences in the level of training of vehicle inspectors are generally indicated as factors facilitating the involvement of organized transnational crime in this profitable form of illicit trafficking.

In Europe, for example, the transnationalization of the phenomenon has greatly benefited from the opening of the eastern European borders and the increased freedom of movement across the countries. Consequently, many Governments of the region have stressed the need for an efficient system to exchange information on stolen vehicles and for more effective international cooperation among law enforcement agencies, custom officials and border control authorities to prevent and control illicit trafficking in motor vehicles.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) indicated that illicit trafficking in motor vehicles had increased since 1988, but reached a peak in 1992. A package of countermeasures adopted in 1993-1995 had led to a decrease in this type of crime in some of the CIS member states despite the rapid increase in the number of cars available. In most CIS member states, and particularly in the central Asian region, the number of cases had fallen dramatically since 1994. In the western region of CIS the problem continued to be serious and the number of thefts and unauthorized use of motor vehicles was rising, while the success rate in solving such crimes remained low. Given the economic vulnerability of the population in those countries, the theft of tens of thousands of motor vehicles was a major destabilizing factor. The proportion of unreported thefts was also extremely high, as many victims preferred to approach criminal organizations directly to recover their vehicles upon payment of a fee. Large numbers of motor vehicles were illicitly imported from countries outside CIS. The inter-state programme of joint measures to combat organized crime and other types of dangerous crimes in the territory of the CIS member States provided for further discussion on the creation of a centralized data bank on stolen motor vehicles in CIS and other States.

Member States of the European Union (EU) considered the fight against illicit trafficking in motor vehicles to be an important issue in the programme on organized crime. The matter was included in the mandates of both the future European police force (Europol) and its forerunner, the Europol Drugs Unit (EDU). A 1995 Directive of the European Commission (95/56/CE of 8 November 1995) had amended a previous directive on anti-theft devices and had introduced the mandatory equipment of all new cars with electronic immobilizers. EDU was preparing a situation report on trafficking in stolen vehicles.

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) reported that there was great awareness among its member States of the worsening situation with regard to theft of and illicit trafficking in motor vehicles. The problem had been tackled at the national level by individual countries concerned and some efforts had been made to coordinate such activities among neighbouring countries.

(38.) The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), within its work programme in the area of transport and standards for the construction of vehicles, referred to Regulation No. 18 and amendments, on uniform provisions concerning the approval of power-drive vehicles with regard to their protection against unauthorized use, and Regulation No. 97 and amendments, on uniform provisions concerning the approval of vehicle alarms and of motor vehicles with regard to their alarm systems.

From a survey carried out by the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control in 1997 it emerged that the growth of motor vehicle crime had stabilized in western Europe, but it was still strong in many eastern European countries. Eastern European countries, with limited automobile availability, especially in relation to the most desirable makes and models, were the important target countries for misappropriated motor vehicles. Western European countries had be countries of origin since they had a large number of desirable motor vehicles available. Along with economic development, the car park in eastern European countries had increased and improved rapidly, so the pressure of motor vehicle crime had moved to those areas and the situation in western Europe had improved. At the peak of illicit trafficking in motor vehicles in western Europe, international cooperation mechanisms had been developed, also involving insurance companies and car manufacturers.

Broader Problems:
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
G: Very specific problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST