File | Car thefts | Stolen in Quebec, auctioned in Belgium (2 items)

The increase in exports of Quebec vehicles stolen by criminal networks has given rise to a new market in the port city of Antwerp, Belgium: auctions of North American models seized by Belgian police during a stopover and resold at a discount for European customers.

In its courtyard located right next to the port of Antwerp, where the River Scheldt meets the salt waters of the North Sea, the AuctionPort auction house is currently offering several vehicles arriving from Quebec. The auction is open: consumers have already bid on a Jeep Gladiator bearing the logo of a Montreal catering service, a RAV4 bearing the brand of the Toyota Angers dealership in Saint-Hyacinthe, another RAV4 bearing that of the Park Avenue Group and a Hyundai Elantra 2021 (a model not offered in Europe) with a registration from a Sherbrooke dealer.

“All the cars are stolen Canadian vehicles with exit papers from the Belgian police. No European import tax has yet been paid on the cars,” specifies the announcement on the auctioneer’s website, which also offers interested buyers the opportunity to come and inspect the equipment in person on February 13.

“Cars may still contain hidden traces of burglary, such as removed navigation media modules,” reads the warning.


Cars put up for auction may still contain traces of burglary, indicates the auction house AuctionPort.

In transit to elsewhere

This type of offer is common at AuctionPort. Records on the company’s website show that, month after month, lots of vehicles from Quebec and the rest of Canada are offered to the highest bidder. Some are sold with souvenirs of their former owner, such as a “baby on board” poster, a SAAQ registration certificate or lettering associated with a Laval construction contractor. Depending on the level of delicacy of the thieves, the windows are sometimes smashed or the wires of the on-board computer are torn out.

“The vehicles from here which are found in Belgium are mainly stolen vehicles which were in transit to elsewhere. They will pass through the port of Antwerp before going to other ports, across the Mediterranean, to cross into Africa or the Middle East, for example,” explains Jacques Lamontagne, director of investigations for Quebec and the Atlantic at Équité Association, an organization fighting insurance crimes that brings together the main Canadian insurers.

In the world of global maritime trade, the port of Antwerp has long been a must. It is the second largest in Europe, with an area of ​​11,000 hectares, which exceeds the size of the Paris metropolitan area. A strategic gateway to the continent, teeming with activity, where 271 million tonnes of cargo pass through each year and where 1,400 companies are located. No surprise that vehicles shipped from Canada stop there en route to other countries.

But if many of these stolen vehicles are intercepted there before continuing on their way, it is because local law enforcement is efficient, says Mr. Lamontagne, himself a former detective lieutenant with the Police Department of the City of Montreal (SPVM).

The customs officers there do an excellent job and are successful in seizing vehicles in transit. They have a big port, they have the financial resources to do it.

Jacques Lamontagne, director of investigations for Quebec and the Atlantic at Équité Association

“There is a lot of exchange of information with them. When we know that vehicles have left by boat, we transmit the information to our partners, including Belgian customs officers. Canadian customs officers do the same thing, after the departure of certain boats, they notify the people there. Belgian customs officers also carry out analyzes of containers, cross-checking information to target the correct ones,” says the former Montreal police officer.

For 2022-2023, Équité Association estimates that approximately 200 vehicles stolen in Canada have been recovered by authorities in Antwerp. The same process is observed in several countries. Stories of vehicles stolen in France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Belgium, which are then sent to the port of Antwerp to be shipped for resale in Africa or the Middle East, regularly make headlines in European media.

Repatriate or not?

When a Canadian truck or sport utility vehicle is seized by the authorities in Belgium, their former owner has usually already had time to be compensated by their insurer. The vehicle therefore officially belongs to the insurance company, which can decide what to do with it.

“When we receive the information, we notify the companies of where the vehicle is located and we give them several contact references who can help. It could be auctioneers, people who bring the containers here, there are several options. Each insurer can decide either to sell it abroad or to repatriate it to Canada. They make an economic decision based on the value of the vehicle, its condition and the cost of the return trip. In some cases, it is worth bringing him back, in others, it is better for them to leave him abroad,” says Jacques Lamontagne.

We don’t tell them what to do. But me, if you ask me my opinion, I like it when we bring them back. It could send a message to the criminal organizations that export and who had gone to so much trouble to get it out of the country.

Jacques Lamontagne, director of investigations for Quebec and the Atlantic at Équité Association

Managers of the AuctionPort auction house did not respond to interview requests from The Press.

The subject of illicit traffic passing through the port of Antwerp has caused a lot of discussion in Belgium. Despite several successful police operations and record seizures, the port remains recognized by the Europol police alliance as the gateway for a large portion of the cocaine sold in Europe. The various drug import networks operating there have been singled out in recent years for a series of acts of violence, including grenade attacks and a plan to kidnap the Minister of Justice foiled by the police.

The Belgian government has announced additional resources to combat maritime smuggling, including new mobile container scanners, the hiring of police and customs officers and more extensive background checks on thousands of port employees.

With the collaboration of Daniel Renaud, The Press


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