Police say car theft is a big problem, and a joint regional police effort is a must to solve it.
By Katica Djurovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 20/09/12
Most stolen cars are dismantled and sold for parts. [Reuters]
The Balkan car mafia is among the best organised and most dangerous in Europe, earning millions of euros from this criminal activity, the EU Law Enforcement Agency, Europol, warns.
EU insurance companies report that about 130,000 cars are stolen annually from the Balkans, and about 1.2 million cars are stolen each year in the EU.
"Organised international vehicle trafficking is on the rise. Europe's open borders and uneven patchwork of vehicle databases make car theft relatively easy. Thieves can steal a car in the EU and drive it to a neighbouring country for resale with little difficulty," Soren Kragh Pedersen, Europol spokesperson, told SETimes.
The Europol report says a high-value car can yield 15,000 euros for a car thief. It estimates that half the cars stolen in the EU are trafficked to neighbouring countries, generating 6.75 billion euros in annual revenues.
According to the Belgrade Institute for Criminology and Social Studies, common language, geography and culture help Balkan criminal groups to work together.
"Criminals are well connected and know each other from before. Also, it is easier to stay in touch and make contact with someone from the region than from other countries they have nothing in common with," Leposava Kron, head of the Institute, told SETimes.
In Serbia 3,000 cars are stolen annually.
According to the Serbian police department, car thieves target luxury cars such as Mercedes, Audi, BMW and different type of jeeps, but also older cars like Golf and Zastava, that are usually dismantled and sold for parts.
The Serbian police claim that the largest number of vehicles are stolen in Belgrade, while the most popular theft routes are Montenegro, Bosnian and Herzegovina (BiH), Macedonia,and Bulgaria, as well as the former Soviet countries. At times, cars stolen in the Balkans are discovered in the Middle East. In the last few years, Kosovo became the so called "black spot" for cars.
Cross-border police co-operation and exchange of information are key in fighting this crime, experts said.
"The auto industry must be strictly regulated since many car thieves easily access them. Registration and tracking should be immediately done after cars are released. Tracking these products is one way to impede car theft," Milan Dimitrijevic, head of the International Operational Police Co-operation Department in Belgrade, told SETimes.
Police say car theft is a big problem, and a joint effort of regional police departments is a must.
"Past operations such as Majevica and Kamen were a good example of successful co-operation, but we need more of such work. It is good prevention to fight organised crime and a clear message to all criminal groups in the former Yugoslavia," Dimitrijevic said.
In Sarajevo, thieves steal three to four cars daily, and around 3,000 cars anually.
According to the BiH Federal Police Directorate and the Interior Ministry of Republika Srpska, in the first half of 2012, 526 cars were stolen, 30 percent more than in the same period last year.
In Croatia, 2,000 cares are stolen annually.
In the last few years, many of the of luxury vehicles stolen in Europe were found in Albania. A tractor that went missing in South Africa was found in a village close to the Albanian city of Durres.
Macedonian TV channel Sitel recently reported about a minibus stolen 13 years ago in Bulgaria that was just found in the Albanian city of Podgradec.
Most car theft victims do not expect to see their vehicle again. One of them is Luka Pejovic, 49, from Podgorica, whose Golf 4 was stolen a few years ago.
"I guess it was dismantled and sold for parts, since we were visiting car markets regularly, hoping that it might be there. It looks like we are going back to the 1990s when car theft was a daily problem," Pejovic told SETimes.