Number plate cloning: Police raid at NTSA may have come too late

Nyamira police officers display vehicles with the same number plate. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • At the downtown garage, we easily made a duplicate for one of the vehicles owned by Nation Media Group in under one hour at just Sh600.
  • The cartel is allegedly run by ex-convicts of the Kamiti Maximum Prison, where number plates are made for the NTSA.

Wednesday's raid by the Anti-Terror Police Unit at the National Transport and Safety Authority to unravel the mystery behind fake number plates was too little, too late.

By Wednesday, when the sleuths were busy at the NTSA offices, the number plate cartel — which the Daily Nation exposed in June 2016 — was still at work in downtown Nairobi.

A short descent on Accra Road ushered us into a buzzy downtown in the dusty and sunny January as everyone goes about their business.

At the point where Accra Road makes a T-junction with a Shell Petrol Station on the right and various second-hand cloth sellers lined up on the left, a dusty path further down is lined up with shops selling motor vehicle spare parts makes the number plate factory.

You would need a little more familiarity to go beyond here.

SYNDICATE

An expansive market of vehicle parts is busy as curious eyes scan any stranger and you get asked what you are looking for.

Small tin shops lined on the left painted red and green like mobile money agents form the first point of business.

One of the shops, precisely the fourth one, has a sample number plate displayed on the left of its counter — inviting buyers willing to make orders for a fake number plate.

“You will have to tell us exactly what you want the number plate for before we tell you the cost. Whether it is for your car or not, a replacement or just a random number," one of the men dressed on a faded dirty overall said when we inquired about the price.

I was there in 2016 and from the curiosity my enquiry drew this time, looks like the cartel has grown smarter and more cautious.

The business is on, though, and it is shocking how the authorities have never raided the place almost three years since we first did an exposé on the risky trade.

TERRORISM

The ease with which fake number plates are made in downtown Nairobi poses a huge security risk with terrorists and other criminals finding it easy to make multiple plates to be used on cars that they intend to conceal identity.

The makers of fake number plates have even paraded agents lined up at the second-hand car parts market who identify any potential clients and discuss details of the registration number and the pricing in between the heap of second-hand clothes being sold around the den.

From people who just want to repaint their number plates and make them look new to thugs who want to duplicate another car’s number plate, the business spreads far.

In 2016, we were led to the garages by a government officer’s driver who had made a fake number plate under the instruction of his boss; the then acting director of the Anti-Counterfeit Authority John Akoten.

CRIMINALS

Mr Akoten was reportedly replacing the blue parastatal number plate with a regular one to conceal the car from traffic check units who monitor state-owned vehicles from misuse by those they are assigned to.

At the downtown garage, we easily made a duplicate for one of the vehicles owned by Nation Media Group in under one hour at just Sh600.

The cartel is allegedly run by ex-convicts of the Kamiti Maximum Prison, where number plates are made for the NTSA.

Led by a bossy ring leader nicknamed ‘Prof’, the makers of fake number plates are keen to know the intended use of the number plate since the trade is well-planned to minimise chances of being discovered, as we learnt.

For those asking for just a random number plate, the forgers have created a database of vehicles that are known to be operating in some far-flung areas where they are not expected to go beyond, say a small van operating in a market in Marsabit or Sirare.

COINCIDENCE

Once they know the client plans to operate the car in Nairobi or Kisumu, they then duplicate the Marsbabit van’s number plate in the confidence that the two will never be found at the same place.

Coincidence still occurs though, like it did for Mr Collins Okeya last week on Frida, when he visited a hospital in Nairobi only to find a car bearing the same number plate as his.

The two cars, a Subaru Legacy belonging to Mr Okeya and Toyota Harrier also registered as KBZ142F, are still under investigation.

“I was scared - especially coming barely a month after I had raised concerns with NTSA over some changes in my vehicle details in the Transport Information Management System (TIMS).

"I even went and registered my complaint but nothing happened even after they promised to sort it out in a week,” Mr Okeya told Nation yesterday.

There are concerns that the number plate cartel may have penetrated the NTSA systems to make and register the fake registration numbers, prompting the raid yesterday.

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