Hamilton, Ontario — Four people have been charged after police busted an alleged $1.6-million car theft ring spanning southern Ontario and exporting high-end vehicles out of the country.
Local police began the investigation—dubbed ‘Project Seagull’—in August 2019 after they became aware of the thefts. The ring, which operated out of Hamilton, Ont., targeted mainly rental cars, according to authorities.
Seven of the 39 vehicles stolen were found on a shipping container destined for Iraq, while investigators believe the yet-to-be-recovered vehicles have been shipped to various locations around the world.
On Dec. 5, police executed several search warrants related to the case, where they seized 12 more stolen vehicles, a variety of vehicle parts, gold jewelry as well as stolen Mexican passports.
Police say the suspects would use fraudulent documents to rent vehicles from companies. They would either simply never return the vehicles or clone keys prior to bringing them back, only to return at a later date to steal the car using the cloned keys.
Three men and one woman—Yehia Al-Jbouri, Zeyad Al-Khafaji, Amer Al-Ogaili and Nahla Khayon—were charged in connection with the thefts.
“There four accused have a network going on,” said Detective Sargeant Andrea Torrie. “We have evidence they have probably been doing this for a couple of years.”
Hamilton has been a hotspot for parts-related crime recently. Local authorities were left baffled by a string of catalytic converter thefts in the area between May and September of this year.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates auto thefts cost Canadians close to $1 billion annually. Last year, southern Ontario alone saw nearly 10,000 thefts.