A joint police investigation, participated in by the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), has led to the bust of a major auto theft criminal operation.
The bureau contributed to an investigation spearheaded by Hamilton police, together with the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council and the Canadian Border Services Agency.
The operation, dubbed “Project Seagull,” looked into the exportation of stolen vehicles. Police started investigating a man suspected to be heavily involved in the organized theft and exportation ring in August.
Four months into the investigation, authorities issued a statement that they had arrested four individuals allegedly involved with the auto theft ring. Investigators believe that the group, which operated out of Hamilton, has been involved in over 39 vehicle thefts with a value in excess of $1.6 million.
Rental car companies across southern Ontario were targeted by the theft ring. The perpetrators used fraudulent documents to rent the vehicles, but would not return them. Sometimes, car keys were copied so that the perpetrators could steal them later.
In a release, Hamilton police said that seven stolen vehicles bound for Iraq had been recovered to date, though many more are believed to have been shipped.
The four individuals have been released and will appear in court early next year.
According to estimations by the IBC, auto thefts cost Canadians close to $1 billion yearly. This includes $542 million for insurers to either fix or replace stolen vehicles; $250 million in police, healthcare and court systems costs; and millions for correctional services. The bureau also said that, in 2018, southern Ontario saw 9,500 thefts and $162.5 million in industry payouts.