A new report sheds light on the scale of auto theft in Mexico, which often intersects with other illicit activities commonly carried out by criminal groups.
More than 150,000 cars were stolen in Mexico last year and over 78,000 have been stolen so far this year, according to Reporte Indigo. The news outlet writes that stolen cars are often sent abroad to the United States or Central America, and that vehicles stolen in Mexico have been tracked down as far away as Europe, Asia and Africa.
By some estimates, auto theft in Mexico is a multi-billion dollar industry.
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The stolen cars exported abroad sometimes leave from Mexico's ports. Data from Mexico's Tax Administration Service (Servicio de Administración Tributaria - SAT), obtained by Reporte Indigo, shows that between 2007 and 2015 authorities stopped more than 2,000 vehicles from transiting the country's ports due to lack of proper documentation.
Reporte Indigo notes, however, that "given the immense quantity of vehicles that are moved through the country's ports, and the low inspection capacity on the part of national authorities, it is very probable that the more than 2,000 vehicles embargoed by the SAT are just a small sign of the real size of the problem."
Mexico is one of the largest producers and exporters of automobiles in the world. The country exported a total of more than 2.75 million vehicles last year alone. According to Reporte Indigo, some 6.1 million vehicles were exported through Mexican ports between 1996 and 2013.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Reporte Indigo article illustrates several ways in which the stolen car trade intersects with other illicit businesses. For example, Guillermo Prieto, the president of the Mexican Automobile Distributors Association (Asociación Mexicana de Distribuidores de Automotores - AMDA), told the news outlet that stolen cars could be used as payment for drug shipments or as a means of laundering money.
Beyond their mere financial value, criminal organizations have other reasons to seek out stolen automobiles. One of the main attractions of a stolen vehicle is the challenge of tracing it to the person who is actually using it. The difficulty of determining actual ownership makes such vehicles ideal for smuggling contraband, or for use in the commission of other crimes such as robberies and murders.