Port Elizabeth police are investigating the origin of thousands of potentially stolen engine components after almost R2-million worth of parts were discovered during a raid on a North End premises housing a vehicle workshop early this week.
But the diesel mechanic at the centre of the probe, whom police have declined to name, has claimed ownership of the parts, saying they were purchased legitimately.
The workshop owner, who has allegedly bought almost 1 000 parts from the same source since 2016, has also claimed that if he had unwittingly purchased stolen parts during his latest transactions, he would have been duped out of nearly R2-million.
The investigation was launched in earnest on Monday after police, acting on a tip-off, raided the Swartkops Street premises and discovered several new vehicle parts – still in their original packaging.
And in a twist to the components mystery, the parts under investigation were discovered in a storeroom used by another tenant in the same premises shared by the workshop business.
No arrests have been made yet and police are still in the process of determining whether the parts – which were seized by investigators, have in fact been stolen.
The parts include turbos, fuel injector pumps, throttles and various other engine parts – the bulk of which are for Ford and Volkswagen engines. The parts have an estimated value of between R1.6-million and R1.8-million.
The raid was conducted by the police’s Vehicle Inspection Section (ViS), which is commonly known as the vehicle theft unit, along with the service’s K9 unit.
Police spokeswoman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said the parts under investigation could not be purchased over the counter – but only from the manufacturers.
“Police received a tip-off about potentially stolen items at the premises.
“On investigation, various expensive car parts, some still in boxes and original wrapping, were found on the property.
“All the goods were confiscated and detectives are consulting with vehicle manufacturers who have confirmed that these items appear to have been stolen.
“All the parts are going to be given back to the manufacturers if the probe finds that they are stolen,” she said.
Janse van Rensburg said the owner of the premises provided invoices and receipts of purchase – which is why he was not arrested.
“This is being investigated and when the probe is concluded, the National Prosecuting Authority will be asked to make a decision on how to proceed.
The mechanic’s attorney, Stuart Laubscher, said the owner had effectively been conned and had been purchasing car parts from the same individuals since 2016.
“We have the invoices and statements issued from the purchase. You are talking about almost a thousand parts that my client effectively purchased without knowing that they are stolen,” he said.
“At the time of purchasing the parts, he even called a detective and asked if he should query it.
“He was told by police to take photocopies of the sellers’ identity book and get a receipt,” he said.
“There was no reason to doubt the purchase of these parts as for more than two years he has been buying parts from these particular people.”
Laubscher, who valued the parts at about R600 000, said the components were found in the store of another tenant on the same premises.
“My client has lost money in this transaction. I have since been instructed, in due course, to sue the people who sold him these parts in an attempt to get some of his money back,” he said.