A line-up of 17 luxury vehicles with cloned identity plates wait to be shipped back to the UK after a major police investigation that recovered the top-of-the-range vehicles from Durban Harbour since July this year. Photo: Enos Mhlongo

Seventeen luxury vehicles worth almost R9 million that were stolen in the UK were recovered from Durban Harbour after a major investigation involving British and local police.

Top-of-the-range vehicles, including a Land Rover Discovery 3, the latest Range Rover model, a Porsche Turbo, a range of BMWs, including an X5 and a GT model, Audi Q7, a new E350 Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and VW Golfs were lined up at a warehouse in Durban yesterday, ready to be shipped out of the country back to their owners in Britain.

Police said the papers, number plates and engine numbers had been cloned and the vehicles were destined for people in neighbouring countries such as Botswana and Mozambique.

They said the vehicles had been seized from containers in the harbour since the launch of the investigation in July.

Detective-Constable Vincent Wise, of the UK National Auto Crime Unit, said the investigations had begun when police noted the high rate of house burglaries in the UK in which vehicles were stolen.

“The vehicles would be stolen from their owners through house burglaries where criminals would demand keys of the vehicles. The cars would then be cloned and given false identities before being shipped as exports to other countries.”

Durban in particular was being used as a transit port.

Wise said a few people in Britain had been arrested. They were low-level criminals who carried out the thefts.

“The investigation is continuing and we are expecting to make more arrests soon. We believe that this is an international syndicate.”

Wise said some of the owners have not yet been paid out by their insurance companies.

In a similar operation in August, eight luxury vehicles were seized in Durban. These included a Porsche, BMWs, an Audi Q7, a Lexus, a Bentley and a Land Rover Discovery.

These have been linked to the latest operation.

Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge said no one had been arrested yet in South Africa, but police expected to make arrests here soon.

The cars had been recovered in “dribs and drabs”, Mdunge said. “The vehicles are sold on a ‘black market’ and Durban was used as a transit through the harbour.

“All the vehicles will be shipped back to the UK.” - The Mercury