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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Authorities Claim Progress in Fighting Car Thieves

Moscow's GAI traffic police claimed Wednesday to be making headway in the fight against auto theft, one of the biggest organized-crime problems plaguing the capital.

The number of cars reported stolen in the city fell to 11,775 in 1996, officials said, 4,756 less than during the previous year. GAI officers also claim to have recovered 43.4 percent of the stolen cars, a substantial improvement from the 24.1 percent recovery rate in 1995.

The GAI chief spokesman, Andrei Shavilyev, attributed the positive trend in part to a campaign coordinated with the Interior Ministry to target car-theft rackets, including police raids on auto-parts shops that deal in stolen cars.

"Car theft is the third most profitable crime after the trade in weapons and narcotics," Shavilyev told a news conference. "It is controlled by an organized crime structure that has no fear of the law."

Shavilyev also credited technology for the improved statistics. For motorists with $700 to spare, police have touted an American-made anti-theft device called LO/JACK. If a car equipped with the device has been stolen, a remote signal can be activated to help police track it down. Seven of nine stolen cars equipped with the device were recovered last year.

A similar Russian-made system called KORZ can be purchased for $400. GAI officials say such anti-theft radio devices are now operating in more than 15,000 cars in Moscow.

Prosecuting car thieves still remains difficult under Russian law, Shavilyev complained, adding that too many get off with just a warning.

"When we catch car thieves, every second person tells the police they were merely joy-riding or borrowed the car to pick up some medicine for their sick mothers," he said. "Criminals have all the rights. We have none."

He also contended that existing penalties are a weak deterrent. Sentences for car theft include a year in prison, a fine or loss for two years of the right to work -- all regarded by police as little more than slaps on the wrist.

Shavilyev praised a recently adopted law in Uzbekistan under which a car thief can get 10 to 15 years in prison. "People won't steal a car if it costs them 10 years of their life, but for one year -- why not?" he said.

An official at the state-controlled insurance company Ingosstrakh said he could not confirm or deny any trend toward fewer stolen cars, adding that the company "takes its own measures against the problem." Yury Kostin, a claims officer at the local office of the German insurance company Ost-West Allianz, said the firm doesn't insure cars in Moscow because the high theft rate makes in unprofitable.

The traffic police are not restricting their campaign to stolen cars. A month-long spring offensive on the drivers of dirty and rusty cars will be mounted starting Monday on the orders of Mayor Yury Luzhkov.