GTA luxury vehicle thefts linked to Nigerian crime ring Black Axe
Operation involved Service Ontario employee who fed vehicle owners' details to criminals
Toronto police say 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.
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.
'The head of the snake'
"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, totaling approximately $30 million dollars. Some vehicles were stolen from as far as Hamilton, Waterloo and Guelph, Ont.
Approximately 200 vehicles, representing $11 million dollars, were recovered from shipping containers with assistance from authorities in Spain and Belgium.
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.
Eighteen people were arrested for participating in a criminal organization and crimes involving drugs and guns after police executed more than 35 warrants in the GTA Thursday. They face 640 charges. Police say six arrests are still outstanding.