Organised gangs are ripping off car rental firms with a massive rise in vehicles being illegally shipped out of Spain to Northern Africa and Eastern Europe, with numbers trebling over just one year. The Costa Blanca and Murcia regions have been identified as the main “hot spots” for the crooks, with Spanish bureaucracy making the country a fertile breeding ground for the rental thieves.

The alarming government figures were disclosed at the annual meeting of Spain’s rental car association, FENEVAL, in Alicante, which featured delegates from key companies like Hertz, Europcar, and Goldcar. The latest available statistics date back to 2013 and show that almost 18 thousand vehicles were never returned across Spain, nearly three times as much compared to the figures for 2012. Only around fifteen hundred of those stolen vehicles were recovered in 2013, with most of the rest being shipped or driven out of the country by organised gangs, once they’ve concocted a set of forged documents for each car. They are then exported in containers either via the southern port of Algeciras or they many make a far more convoluted journey(by-passing potential risks at local ports like Alicante and Almeria) by being taken overland all the way to the Belgian port of Antwerp, before being shipped back south to Northern African to countries like Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania.

Lorries are also used to take the cars to Eastern European countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia. The gangs would then make substantial amounts of money by selling off the cars illegally with their gains being pumped into a variety of organised crime

José Orge from Spain’s organised crime fighting police division, UDYCO, told the 200 FENEVAL delegates that the car rental companies needed to co-operate more with the police to try to reduce the numbers of stolen vehicles. Orge added that the problem was greater in areas like the Alicante and Murcia regions where the criminals could easily pass themselves off as tourists hiring cars. In Alicante Province alone, around two thousand cars per year are not being returned at the end of the contracted hire period. Poor penalties for car thefts; the sophistication of the organised crime gangs; and Spain’s mixture of different courts and regions are all combining to make the country a fertile breeding ground for car rental thieves. UDYCO is currently investigating one case which saw 200 vehicles shipped out of Spain all the way to Paraguay back in 2012. The most popular models eyed up for shipping out are the Seat León and Ibiza; the Dacia Logan and Duster, as well as Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles and the BMW X5 and X6.

All that being said, FENEVAL, declared that the turnover for their members went up last year by 4.3% to 1.3 billion euros, with a 5% rise being forecast for 2015. They are also going to buy nearly 200 thousand new cars for their customers this year.