| 13.1°C Dublin

HI-TECH THEFT Mob behind a €1.5m e-car robbing spree are busted by gardai


A criminal waves high-tech equipment at the front door to amplify the key fob signal so they can start the e-car and drive off in silence

A criminal waves high-tech equipment at the front door to amplify the key fob signal so they can start the e-car and drive off in silence

A criminal waves high-tech equipment at the front door to amplify the key fob signal so they can start the e-car and drive off in silence

A HI-tech gang that has stolen more than 70 electric cars with a total value of around €1.5m has been smashed by gardai.

In their latest raids against the Eastern European mob, officers from the Garda’s Stolen Motor Vehicle Investigation Unit (SMVIU) searched a garage in Blanchardstown earlier this month where they found parts from a stolen luxury Tesla Model S.

The car, bought for more than €100,000, is understood to be the only Tesla stolen so far in Ireland after it was taken from Malahide last year.

“There is not much left of the original car as the gang stripped it down and removed valuable parts including its battery. It is the only Tesla to have been stolen in Ireland,” a senior source said.

“This gang has been stealing all types of electric cars and there was a stage back in January when they were getting away with stealing up to four Nissan Leaf cars a week – this was definitely their favourite model to take.

“This is a gang made up of around half a dozen Romanian and Lithuanian criminals based in Blanchardstown, Rathcoole and Ashbourne who have been linked to the theft of more than 70 cars in an area stretching from Maynooth in Kildare down to Greystones in Wicklow and all across the capital.

“South Dublin was particularly badly hit when this crew was at its busiest during the winter months and into February and March,” the senior source said.

The coronavirus pandemic meant increased garda checkpoints reduced the gang’s ability to operate.

However, with travel restrictions eased in the summer detectives have seen a spike in cases in the last couple of months which led to the raid in Blanchardstown.

The SMVIU also had a major success against the gang in early March when they raided an illegal business in Rathcoole where they arrested a gang member aged in his 30s and seized an electrical device which is suspected of being used in the theft of dozens of electrical cars.

The device was used by the gang to trap the car key’s unique signal which then sends it to another device, which in turn tricks the car into thinking the key is near.

The suspect was later released without charge and has fled back to Romania.

“The device he was caught with is used for amplifying the key signal – this redirects the wireless signal from the key fob, stored inside a house at night, to the vehicle which is parked outside the property,” the source said.

The use of the device means that criminals do not need to break into a house to take a key fob to be able to start the car.

Instead, they redirect the wireless signal from the key fob and then drive the car to an “off-site” location before the vehicle is then brought to an illegal ‘chop shop’ to be stripped down of its valuable parts.

“It is suspected that many of these expensive car parts are then smuggled out of the country to mainland Europe but some of these parts are being sold here as well,” the source said.

“The use of the device by the gang means that the victims of the car thefts are unaware that their vehicles are gone until they get up the next morning – their electric cars have been simply driven relatively silently away from their properties without their knowledge.”

A total of 139 vehicles were stolen nationwide in a nine-month period in 2019 through the use of redirected signals, but this figure is expected to be much lower this year because of the garda operation and the health pandemic.

“More searches and arrests are planned and the suspect arrested in March is expected to be charged, so gardaí will apply for a European Arrest Warrant in his case,” the source said.

“Gardaí are certain that there are other devices out there to aid in this type of crime and will continue to target these hi-tech gangs.”