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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police to Let Drivers Keep Stolen Cars

Weary of having to impound an increasing number of stolen foreign cars, Moscow police say they will simply let the current owner keep the vehicle - by issuing a stamp to legally drive a hot car.

The decision is driven by the reluctance of foreign insurance companies to bear the expense and hassle of trying to reclaim stolen cars through the Russian courts, police said.

Rather than deprive innocent new owners of an expensive new purchase - which will then just sit in an impoundment lot - the police might as well let the cars be driven, the reasoning goes.

The decision, taken by the criminal investigations department of the Moscow police, will come into effect Aug. 31, but only in Moscow. Cars will continue to be seized elsewhere.

In many cases, owners have no idea that they have purchased a stolen car until they are stopped by traffic police, Alexander Skamorin, head of the criminal investigation department, said.

"On some days, police seize up to 120 vehicles from the Interpol search list," Skamorin said.

He said his investigators are buried in paperwork trying to track down rightful car owners in Europe and the new order will make their lives easier.

In Germany, many news media reacted sarcastically. Berliner Morgenpost published a sardonic headline Friday: "A Stolen Car From the West? No Problem!"

Other papers compared the new order with the recent decision of the Russian Constitutional Court which ruled that Germany, as a wartime aggressor, would have zero chances to reclaim its trophy art.

Moscow-based insurance experts agreed with police assessments that foreign insurers have little incentive to travel to Russia to recover their property or their money. "Such trips could be justified only when a very expensive car is involved," Alexei Lebedev of AIG Insurance company said.

Police say most stolen foreign cars come from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, and are moved by organized crime through porous borders in the Baltic countries, Poland and Belarus.

"The theft is often provoked by the owners themselves, who arrange it with the thieves, get rid of their cars, wait several days to make sure the thieves have left the country, and then go to the insurance firm," said Vladimir Sidorov, general director of East-West Survey, a Moscow-based insurance company. Sidorov added that he has never heard of any Western insurance firm coming to Moscow to a reclaim stolen car.