A wide-ranging investigation into an international car smuggling racket has yielded no arrests here despite the alleged involvement of two Maltese nationals, Times of Malta is informed.
The Italian police said last week two Maltese men had allegedly acted as intermediaries in the smuggling of stolen vehicles.
The police in Ragusa, Sicily, said they had made several arrests in the early hours of last Wednesday after smashing a criminal ring that involved stealing luxury cars and other vehicles in Italy and then shipping them to Libya via Malta.
Some 40 people were held during the operation, codenamed ‘Coast to Coast’, by investigators.
Sources close to the police in Malta, however, on Monday dismissed claims that two – so far unidentified – Maltese nationals had been among those arrested.
They also played down reports of an extradition request related to the investigation.
“As far as we can tell at this point, no Maltese have been arrested as part of this investigation, so we were quite surprised to hear claims to the contrary. We got no official communication of this [arrest] from our Italian counterparts,” a police source said.
Meanwhile, Maltese investigators involved in tracing down stolen vehicles said that dozens had been discovered on the island in the past five years. These were mainly from Italy and the UK.
Illicit operations within the framework of the racket were believed to have slowed down after a series of crackdowns by the authorities, the sources said.
The Italian operation involved about 150 officers who searched 50 locations in several Italian cities. The two Maltese ‘accomplices’ were supposed to have been involved in liaising between the Italian car thieves and Libyan dealers who would sell the vehicles on order.
The Italian police last week released a recording of an intercepted phone call in which a man, who the sources identified as a Maltese national, and an Italian interlocutor discussed the collection of a BMW X5 arriving on the catamaran serving the Malta-Italy route.
According to Italian police sources the two Maltese ‘accomplices’ were known to the authorities and were believed to have been involved in a number of criminal enterprises.
This included dismantling some of the luxury vehicles and selling them for parts on the Maltese black market. They were believed to have been involved in similar rackets in the past too, the sources said.
Yet, the Maltese police had yet to receive information about this from their Italian counterparts, Times of Malta was told. The Malta police also appeared to be in the dark as to which period the latest investigation covered.
“This case dates back quite a few years. It is our understanding that the audio recording released [last week] was from a few years back and formed part of another investigation, so it is not yet clear to us what this investigation announced last week consisted of exactly,” a police source said.
Phone intercepts by the Italian police during their investigation indicated that Libyan nationals would order luxury or commercial vehicles, which the Italian organised crime group would provide within weeks after either stealing them or buying the vehicles and then reporting them stolen as part of a wider insurance fraud scam, the sources said.
The investigation is believed to have started in 2012 following a string of reported car robberies and various 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 Libya, some via Malta, as part of the racket earlier this month.
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