500 luxury SUVs stolen in the Greater Toronto Area, Canada, this year, has been traced to Nigerian organized crime ring, Black Axe, Toronto police say.
At a press conference on Friday, police said 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.
According to the police, 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.
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.
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.