Updated at 5.50pm
Two Maltese men allegedly acted as intermediaries in an international car smuggling racket cracked open by Italian and Maltese authorities, police sources confirmed on Wednesday.
Police in Ragusa, Sicily said they had made several arrests in the early hours of Wednesday morning after smashing a criminal ring which involved stealing luxury cars and other vehicles in Italy and then transferring them to Libya through Malta.
Some 40 people were arrested during the operation, named ‘Coast to Coast’ by investigators.
The operation involved some 150 officers, who searched 50 locations in several Italian cities, with investigators also travelling to Malta to work hand-in-hand with Maltese police.
The two Maltese accomplices were believed to be involved in liaising between the Italian car thieves and Libyan dealers who would sell the vehicles on order.
Police sources told the Times of Malta that phone intercepts used in the investigation revealed how Libyan nationals would place orders for either luxury or commercial vehicles, and the Italian organised crime group would then provide these a few weeks later after having stolen them or purchased them and reporting them stolen as part of a wider insurance fraud racket.
A multi-year investigation
The investigation is believed to have first started back in 2013 following a string of reported car robberies and suspicious car insurance claims.
Twenty-one trucks, a cement mixer, a compactor and eight cars, all stolen, were seized in Sicily shortly before they were due to be shipped to Malta as part of the racket earlier this week.
Fake documentation and irregular license plates were also found during the police crackdown.
Meanwhile, Maltese police sources confirmed that a number of vehicles, at least three cars and one truck which had been stolen in Italy had been found in Malta by local authorities following collaboration with their Italian counterparts.
The sources said the two Maltese nationals were known to the authorities and believed to be involved in a number of different criminal enterprises. This included dismantling some of the luxury vehicles and selling them for parts on the Maltese black market.
Intercepted phone calls
Italian police released a recording of an intercepted phone call in which a man, who the sources identified as a Maltese national, and an Italian interlocutor discuss collecting a BMW X5 off the catamaran between Malta and Italy.
Meanwhile, Italian police said they had also seized a cache of stolen and tampered with license plates and car registration documents, an unlicensed fire arm, and cash.
The network is suspected of having moved around 36 vehicles from the ports of Pozzallo, Augusta, Catania, Palermo, Salerno and Naples, passing through Malta with Libya as their final destination.
The stolen vehicles requested by the Libyan are believed to have a street value in excess of €1 million. A number of these vehicles are already on their way back to their rightful owners, the Sicilian police said.
Maltese police said the main Libyan involved had already been arrested in Italy back in 2016, when he was caught with forged ID documents behind the wheel of a luxury yellow sports car that had been reported stolen in Milan.
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