Victims of a vehicle theft syndicate have lost money after purchasing stolen cars, while nine licensing department officials have been arrested for allegedly helping re-register the cars.

According to Lt-Col Philani Nkwalase, the Hawks’ integrated team in Cape Town that includes Serious Organised Crime Investigation and Serious Corruption Investigation as well as the Road Traffic Management Cooperation (RTMC) arrested the nine suspects between the ages of 32 and 62 during the second leg of a project-driven investigation in Gauteng on Thursday.

They were arrested at three vehicle licensing departments where they worked as registration personnel in Roodepoort, Langlaagte and Krugersdorp (Mogale City).

This followed an investigation by the Hawks team which identified several stolen vehicles that had been fraudulently re-registered on the National Traffic Information System (Natis) as rebuilds.

Nkwalase told The Citizen that the syndicate purchased cars written off by insurers following accidents. They then steal matching cars and clone the particulars of the written-off vehicle and sell them to unsuspecting victims.

So far, the police have recovered 17 vehicles that were sold to unsuspecting buyers who purchased these vehicles from second-hand car dealers as well as roadside car sales through a gentleman’s agreement.

The vehicles were seized and handed back to the rightful owners.

Nkwalase further said unfortunately those who bought the cars through roadside car sales through a gentleman’s agreement have lost their money because those suspects are not in a position to reimburse them. Luckily for those who bought through car dealers, they got their money back.

He said “The buyers will not be arrested for purchasing stolen goods because they were misled. They are victims of a syndicate”.

During the first leg of the investigation, eight syndicate members, including the ring leaders, were arrested in February this year in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

It was further established that employees at the Department of Transport aided the syndicate to re-register the stolen vehicles.

One of the suspects, the girlfriend of a Gauteng ringleader, was arrested on Wednesday for her involvement in the syndicate.

She appeared in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Thursday and was released on R40,000 bail. She is expected to appear in the same court on 23 July 2021.

The nine officials who were arrested on Thursday are expected to appear in the Johannesburg central Magistrate’s Court today.

The Hawks have arrested 18 suspects so far.

Nkwalase also said “The investigation is ongoing, so we cannot say all vehicles have been recovered but 17 cars have been recovered so far”.