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Cars beign registered illegaly in Vic - corrupt Vicroads staff
VicRoads car scandal hits 3500
By MIKE EDMONDS
MASSIVE corruption has been uncovered inside VicRoads that could mean thousands of unsuspecting motorists lose their cars.
Dozens of illegally registered cars have been seized already. Late yesterday, police swooped on two imported 8-series BMWs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Herald Sun has learned 3500 vehicles have been identified by police and VicRoads investigators in the past year as illegally registered.
Corrupt VicRoads staff co-operated with criminal gangs to register thousands of stolen and illegally rebuilt cars.
It is believed the crooked staff received about $100 for every car they falsely registered.
Seven allegedly corrupt VicRoads employees at four branch offices have been arrested and will face court.
More arrests are expected as the full extent of the racket is revealed.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent car owners can soon expect VicRoads notices cancelling their registration and third-party insurance.
It is believed the owners will have no recourse to compensation.
VicRoads investigators are working with police to uncover how far the corruption has spread.
Some staff at VicRoads' Kew headquarters are also under suspicion, according to one investigator.
The Herald Sun was told there are several car theft gangs running the racket across Melbourne.
It is believed the gangs carved up the city, with each group staking "ownership" of a VicRoads office where they illegally slipped cars into the registration system.
"It's like, 'You don't use my contact at this office or I'll come and break your legs'," the Vicroads officer said.
A VicRoads source said some cars were falsely registered even before they were stolen.
"The thieves ring their contact inside and say 'I'm going to steal a white Commodore tomorrow, register it for me, these are the identification numbers I'm going to use'," the officer said.
It is believed some of the VicRoads offices suspected of being involved in the racket have been fitted with spy cameras.
The Herald Sun has been told several people have been caught on video, apparently accepting payments from suspected criminals.
But out-of-pocket car owners are unlikely to get compensation.
RACV chief engineer (vehicles) Michael Case said normal comprehensive car policies would not cover the situation.
"If the vehicle is seized by police it hasn't been stolen, it's not damaged, it hasn't disappeared, so I don't believe there could be a claim," Mr Case said.
"However, car owners who have purchased a vehicle in good faith might be able to take legal action directly against the person they purchased it from, if they can find him or her."
None of the 3500 cars that have been falsely registered are older than five years.
A VicRoads officer said some of the registrations were being dummied up for imported cars, mainly BMWs and Mercedes, while they were still aboard ship on their way to Melbourne.
The officer said the fraud was working so well and the VicRoads computer checks so poor that even Sydney-based gangs were starting to use VicRoads to register stolen vehicles, paying a commission to the Victorian operators of the scheme.
He said some car yards and auto engineers were involved, but most of the illegal vehicles were sold privately.
"It's corruption on a huge scale," the officer said.
"Imported cars need an engineers' report to be registered here, and a proper engineering examination is supposed to take about four hours. Some engineers are doing 10 reports a day."
The officer said there were so many loopholes in the VicRoads system that one set of identification numbers had been used to illegally register 20 vehicles, and no alarm bells had gone off.
Investigators said they had no idea how long the racket had been running, but the 3500 cars identified so far had all been illegally registered in the past year.
Det-Insp Paul Hollowood of the stolen motor vehicle unit said the inquiry was in its early stages.
"It's being done in co-operation with VicRoads themselves and to date a number of people have been spoken to but no one's actually been charged with any offences," he said.
"It's early days in terms of the inquiry, and I would say it will be an on-going one."
A retired VicRoads employee who spoke anonymously to the Herald Sun said the fraud could have been running for years.
"It was happening when I was there; not as sophisticated as now, but still happening," the former employee said.
VicRoads general manager for registration and licensing Geoff Shanks confirmed some staff had been interviewed by police.
"VicRoads has been working closely with police for a number of months as part of an on-going investigation into irregularities with some vehicle registrations," Mr Shanks said.
"Due to the on-going investigation it would be inappropriate to comment further."
It is believed the first people to be questioned about the racket were snared in a police sting.
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