This investigative report exposes the criminal activities of car stealing syndicates in both Canada and Ghana
The Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) in Ghana has urged the Canadian government to tighten its security services’ surveillance to halt the inflow of stolen cars into Ghana.
This, according to the EOCO, would strengthen the resolve of the two countries to fight the canker of shipping stolen cars into the country.
Although the vast majority of identified stolen vehicles EOCO confiscates originate from Canada, Abdulai Bashiru Dapilah, Deputy Director of the EOCO, said the agency has never received any communication from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the National Police Service of Canada for intelligence sharing and collaborative work to apprehend car thieves, like the United States of America does.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, an intelligence agency in the United States, routinely shares intelligence regarding stolen vehicles with Ghana’s EOCO.
“No Canadian agency has approached us directly or made a formal complaint directly,” he stated.
He revealed that his team of investigators, who confiscate stolen cars, are sometimes threatened by armed groups and appealed to the Canadian authorities to share intelligence and prevent the entry of these vehicles into foreign territories like Ghana.
The EOCO’s Deputy Director was speaking in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in its latest investigation that tracked and exposed Canadian stolen vehicles smuggled into Ghana.
Stolen cars in Accra
Ghana’s busy capital city of Accra served as the backdrop for CBC News’ discovery of numerous stolen vehicles. Many of these cars had been seized by EOCO and National Security, while others were found in car sales markets (garages) and parking lots.
The EOCO said within two months it seized over 40 cars shipped from Canada to Ghana.
During a motorcade ride with the EOCO during the investigations, the reporters observed a Honda CR-V vehicle with Quebec license plate being driven in front of the team’s vehicle. The Quebec license plates are used in Canada and have specific format and meaning.
The driver swiftly veered onto a side street, leading investigators to suspect that the car had been stolen, given that the model is one of the most frequently stolen vehicles in Canada and some had recently been offloaded from a ship. The driver managed to speed off.
While some vehicle sellers are participants in the car stealing syndicate, the buyers usually consider themselves not complicit. They typically pay prices that align with the fair market value for the cars, especially in a country where nearly all vehicles are imported from overseas.
“We are only in possession of the stolen vehicles. The victims, the place of the crime, they are all in Canada,” Mr Dapilah emphasised while admonishing Canadian authorities to be stricter in their law enforcement on organised crime.
A Canadian couple, Greg and Lynn Gannett, managed to identify the thief who stole the family’s Lexus from their Oakville, Ontario residence in 2022, while reviewing footage from a doorbell camera. This discovery occurred hours after the car had been taken.
According to the couple, the police were clear where the vehicle was headed when they reported the issue.
“It’s probably already on its way to Montreal [Second most populous city in Canada], going to Africa or some other foreign country,” a police officer in Canada told them.
The Police’s initial assessment proved accurate.
Months later, the EOCO conducted a raid on a suspected car dealership garage in Accra, meticulously recording the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) of the vehicles available for sale. The Gannetts’ Lexus was among the inventory, but as its stolen status had not yet been relayed to Interpol, EOCO had no grounds to confiscate it.
The CBC stumbled upon a report regarding the suspicious VINs documented by EOCO and contacted Philip Teye Agbove of the The Fourth Estate to conduct investigations on the vehicles in Ghana.
The findings of Philip Teye Agbove confirmed the descriptions provided by EOCO in its report including the Gannetts’ stolen Lexus.
The Fourth Estate and CBC investigative team’s findings
Members of the CBC investigative desk, David Common and Jared Thomas, teamed up with The Fourth Estate’s Philip Teye Agbove in August 2023 to work on the story.
When the team reached the dealership markets, they found late-model vehicles, including Toyota Highlanders, Lexus RX350s, Honda CRVs, Land Rovers, and Mercedes, among others, all of which were featured on Canada’s most-stolen car list.
The workers, as expected, were confrontational. They tried to destroy the team’s camera, confronted the journalists, and denied knowledge of any car theft-related matter.
They also refused to provide access to the VINs of the vehicles for verification.
Gannett’s Lexus, which the EOCO had earlier spotted at one of the garages, was not there. It had either been relocated to a different garage or, as EOCO suggested to the team, had already been sold and was potentially on the road, with the Ontario registration documents possibly still tucked inside.
Car stolen from Toronto found in Ghana
Len Green from Toronto’s car that was stolen in 2022, was, however, confiscated by the EOCO in one of the car dealership garages in Accra. His details were found in the car and the investigative team got in touch with him. Mr Green was stunned that his stolen car could be found in another continent.
Very often, vehicles stolen from Canada are found to still contain the insurance and registration documents of their original owners in the glove compartment.
In three years, Canada has allocated $51 million to combat auto theft, a problem the government says has surged by 14 percent in the year 2022 alone.
Auto theft has been described as a ‘national crisis’ in Canada, with nearly all stolen cars exported by organised crime gangs.
A report by the Canadian Financing and Leasing Association in 2021 revealed that Ontario alone witnessed over 27,000 vehicle thefts, translating into a car stolen approximately every 17 minutes.
In 2022, both law enforcement agencies and insurers reported an unprecedented billion-dollar worth of vehicle thefts in Canada.
This surge has put the country’s insurance industry on alert, warning of potentially higher premiums for the most targeted vehicles and the potential for some vehicles to become uninsurable.
According to police sources, the majority of these thefts are attributed to large established organised criminal groups based in Montreal, Canada. However, the lucrative nature of the activity has enticed other groups with less technical expertise to get involved.
“The rewards are very high and the risk is very low. We have anecdotal stories of people who have stolen cars, walked out of court and stolen another car in the same parking lot,” explained Deputy Chief, Nick Milinovich, of Peel Regional Police.
“From our perspective, it’s a lack of enforcement,” Michael Rothe of the Canadian Financing and Leasing Association told CBC News, and said Canada is finding it difficult to combat organised theft of vehicles for export.
This explains the reported increase in home invasions and violent incidents aimed at acquiring vehicles and their keys in Canada.
In Accra, the journalists uncovered numerous vehicles, some with Canadian license plates, often containing their provincial registration and insurance documents within the glove compartment.
All the vehicles had been reported stolen from the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.