A network that smuggled luxury cars stolen in Europe into Israel was revealed Tuesday as the Tax Authority and police took their investigation public.
A Haifa port employee, a customs official and suspected European car thieves were among the 20 people detained early Tuesday. They allegedly imported cars to Israel under the premise of personal imports and sold them for as much as 500,000 shekels ($141,000) each.
The cars allegedly were imported using fake paperwork and registration taken from other vehicles.
“This was a very high-level identity fraud, including changing the numbers on the frame,” said police official Eli Assayag. “The cars were sold in Israel at half price.”
To portray the cars as used and claim a low purchase price, the suspects changed the odometers to make it appear as if the cars had been driven much more than they had been, the police say.
The cars were allegedly stolen in countries including Germany, Italy and Hungary, and were brought by land to Greece, where a group of Israelis changed the vehicles’ identities to those of other cars located in Europe. From there they were sent to Haifa port, where another group of suspects took them to sell in Israel.
The cars allegedly include a Mercedes E Class, a BMW X5 and a BMW M3.
Very few cars are being imported by individuals, as opposed to companies. Last year, only 1,664 cars were imported by individuals, a 20% increase from 2012 but still lower than the peak of 2,500 set last decade, according to data published Tuesday.