Thriving black market in car parts puts drivers at risk in Dubai and funds terrorism. Widespread and insidious’ industry With one of the highest car ownership levels, UAE is fertile ground for a counterfeit trade that has a effected 30 per cent of its vehicles. Senior officials from Interpol and the automobile sector warn that the counterfeiting car parts industry is directly funding criminal groups and terrorism.
DUBAI; When Matt Prayer, a Dubai resident, needed an engine part for his limited-edition Ford Mustang Rouge, he was told he would have to wait at least a month. But the mechanics at the garage in Sharjah were quick to offer a solution. Mr Prayer, 29, could buy a cheap replica part manufactured in the UAE. What they did not tell him, however, was that this would make him a participant in the multi million dollar trade of counterfeit car parts that law enforcement agencies have linked to other criminal activities, including money laundering and perhaps even terrorism. When the garage made Mr Prayer the offer, a reporter from The National was present. The details have been forwarded to the police, but officials say the trade in counterfeit parts is widespread and insidious.
The counterfeiting car parts industry is potentially dangerous as fake parts carry no guarantees and are not necessarily manufactured to meet safety standards. Legitimate car manufacturers say they lose more than Dh735 million ( US$ 200m) a year to counterfeiters in the Middle East. The percentage of fake parts installed in the region’s vehicles is 30 per cent compared with 20 per cent globally, according to Middle East Car magazine, car manufacturers and government figures. “There is an enormous trade in fake spare parts in the Gulf region,” says Philip Moore, publishing director of Middle East Car. “Knockoffs and fake goods with market brands that have never seen the inside of a genuine car factory are making their way into cars, and are very dangerous, costing the industry a lot of money.
“Whenever there is a fatal crash on Sheikh Zayed Road [in Dubai], one must question if fake parts had anything to do with it.” According to research by the Brand Owner’s Protection Group (BPG), a Dubai-based organisation fighting the spread of black market goods, the counterfeit car part industry is the biggest trade in fakes based on market value and volume, accounting for 69 per cent of all counterfeit products. Tobacco is second at 22 per cent, while the trade in fake cosmetics stands at five per cent.
Up to 60 per cent of all fake car parts are imported from China, India and the Philippines and about 40 per cent are manufactured in the UAE. “Dubai acts as a transit point for counterfeit goods as much as a destination for cheap car parts,” says Mr Shteiwi.
The UAE has one of the highest car ownership levels in the world. Because of its central geographical location and low import taxes, it is flooded with inexpensive cars from abroad; many vehicles change hands three or four times within a year or two of arriving in the region. This means that the demand for spare parts is growing across the region.
I have wtittrn extensively on the international stolen car racket that ships vehicles to Dubai from all over the world and funds terrorism. In Italy, Albanian organized crime gangs appear to control the car trafficking market. One method they employ is to deliberately drive into a car and then when the driver stops to assess the damage to his vehicle, they take the car by force. The cars are then exported to Tirana. A car stolen in central Italy in the morning can be in Albania with its new owner that same evening, Interpol Report.
“The vehicles are not only stolen for their own sake; sometimes they are trafficked to finance other crimes,” according to the international police organization Interpol. Europol’s report describes Europe’s stolen-car industry as a complex network of professionals that includes car thieves, technicians, mechanics, document forgers, drivers, and unscrupulous car dealers. These thieves have learned how to disable immobilizers, locate and eliminate tracking devices, and alter VIN numbers, then shipping the vehicles to Dubai UAE for resale.