By: Muhammad AbuDeif
An-Nahar, ElWatan—In this investigation, journalist Muhammad Abu Deif documents how cars from Libya are smuggled into Egypt where their identification numbers are changed and they are passed through traffic checks with the complicity of security force members who profit from the illicit trade.
Taking advantage of regional chaos starting with the Arab Spring in 2011, smugglers in Libya and Egypt exploited a standing trade agreement between the two countries to bring thousands of vehicles across the border. According to the 1990 trade deal, Libyan cars that enter Egypt for personal use do not pay any customs tax.
In 2014 alone, some 193,000 cars entered Egypt from Libya, according to a statistic from the Council of Ministers’ Information Center. Some 15,000 of those cars never left Egypt, costing the government 2.2 billion Egyptian Pounds (about USD$67.9 million), according to official documents Abu Deif reviewed. One customs employee told the journalist that he had witnessed cars being smuggled through the Salloum Land Port between the two countries.
Abu Deif contacted smugglers, mechanics, car traders, police officers, and customs officials, documenting the journey of smuggled vehicles at each point. As one smuggler told him, “We can get you any car you want.”
Once a car is brought into Egypt fro Libya, smugglers take it to garages where the vehicle identification number (VIN) is replaced with one taken from a vehicle destroyed in an accident. Hani Mahmoud, former Egyptian Minister of Local Development, attributed the spread of chop shops performing this work to equal parts failure and corruption of local authorities.
Finally, smuggled vehicles pass through traffic inspections and are registered with the help of corrupt police officers and public officials, Abu Deif found. In recent years, multiple Egyptian police officers have been arrested and jailed for forging car registrations and owning smuggled vehicles.
This investigation was completed with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ).