The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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Years-long imported second-hand car mileage scam uncovered

Sunday, 12 June 2016, 12:00 Last update: about 9 years ago

A scam potentially orchestrated by a few second-hand car importers who tampered with the odometers of second-hand imported cars for their own financial gain and to the detriment of their customers has been uncovered The Malta Independent on Sunday can reveal, following an investigation carried out by this newsroom over the past weeks.

Although it has not yet been established for how long the scam has been in place, Transport Malta has confirmed that it has been going on for a number of years.

Faced with details of the case brought forward by this newsroom, Transport Malta admitted that, “New procedures put in place by Transport Malta uncovered discrepancies in odometer readings, which date back years.”

Asked why the public had not been informed of the possibility that such a scam, which involves hundreds, if not thousands, of imported second-hand cars may have been perpetrated against consumers, Transport Malta told this newspaper that it had “started investigating the reasons for such discrepancies which may result from tampering with odometers to human error”.

Sources who brought the scam to the attention of this newsroom claimed that certain car dealers would import second-hand cars with high mileage, which were, as such, subject to correspondingly lower registration taxes.

However, when the time came to sell the imported vehicles, the cars’ odometers would be tampered with to make the mileage much lower than that which had been declared – hence fetching a higher price from customers.

The sources explained that pre-2016 regulations did not require cars’ odometer readings to be inputted during Vehicle Roadworthiness Tests (VRTs), which meant the mileages could not be verified

But when the procedures were changed in January this year, Transport Malta set in motion an exercise which easily identifies which cars had their odometer tampered with. Such data would then need to be followed up with the importer who had originally brought the car to Malta.

It is understood that neither Transport Malta nor the police have, so far, contacted any second-hand car importers about the odometer tampering revealed in VRT tests conducted since January.

The scam was reported to the Ministry for Transport, which, in turn, asked Transport Malta to investigate the matter further.

Asked by this newspaper why the scam had not been immediately reported to the police to proceed with a fraud investigation, Transport Malta said, “Instead of confiscating cars from hundreds of owners, TM started going through manual records to collect information and investigate the issue more in-depth.

“The Police were informed of the internal investigations TM is conducting and have been briefed about the matter. TM is not excluding further steps should the internal investigations confirm that odometers have been tampered with.”

The Malta Independent on Sunday also wanted to know whether any political pressure had been exerted on Transport Malta to bury the case and introduce fresh procedures to ensure that the scam would be brought to an end. 

But Transport Malta flatly rebutted the notion of any political interference, explaining: “The issue is still under investigation and at no point did anyone interfere or attempt to stop investigations in any way. So much so that the checks are still in place and investigations are still ongoing.”

This newspaper’s sources claim that the scam could date back as far as 2004, when VRT testing had first been introduced to Malta – at a time when VRT providers were not obliged to take odometer mileage readings.

Possible scenarios

Following the publication of this story, the possible scenarios facing those who used fraudulent methods for personal gain in the selling of second-hand cars with tampered odometers could lead to arraignments in court, only if the police proceed over the investigations made by TM.

A second scenario would involve those who bought such cars, if identified, whereby they would be in a position to claim their money back from the second-hand car dealers. This would prove to be a laborious and lengthy legal procedure.

Backlogs with expired licences

This newsroom is informed that a sizable amount of drivers flocked to the Transport Malta offices when expired licences where botched due to the change in regulation last January.  Only one Transport Malta officer was handling these matters and it was evident that the authority wasn’t expecting the problem to be as large as it turned out to be. By March of this year, long queues formed with panicked drivers complaining that they could not drive their vehicles with expired licences.

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