Kenya has witnessed a disturbing surge in the theft of Toyota Land Cruiser Prados, a popular luxury SUV known for its robust features and high-end specifications.
This alarming trend, dominated by headlines, has raised serious concerns among car owners and safety organizations, particularly Sikika Road Safety. The organization, dedicated to road safety awareness, has shed light on the increasingly sophisticated methods employed by armed criminals to steal these vehicles.
Sikika’s executive director, Daniel Kiilu, emphasized the gravity of the situation, noting that the criminals seem to possess an intricate understanding of the targeted cars, surpassing the knowledge of average mechanics.
Moreover, these criminals are adept at identifying and disabling tracking systems, staying one step ahead of law enforcement. Kiilu states: “The criminals understand the cars better than average mechanics, and they know where the trackers are. They are coming up with new ideas every day.”
The increasing demand for Prados manifested on December 3, 2023 when vehicle dealers Kennedy Kimuhu Gitau and Brian Karanja miraculously escaped from captivity along the Thika Superhighway. It could have been a different story had their Prado not been involved in a freak accident along the busy highway.
Gitau and Karanja fell victim to a brazen carjacking. The duo had on December 1, 2023 called by a client in Juja to take the Prado for viewing, and possibly deal sealing. Little did they know that what seemed like a good meeting would take a terrifying turn.
Gitau and Karanja met with the supposed buyer, Robert Sifuna Wekesa. As they test-drove the vehicle towards Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), they stopped in front of a gated house in Juja. Three armed men on a motorcycle suddenly appeared, ordering Gitau and Karanja into the house while Wekesa drove the car into the compound.
The criminals demanded a staggering payment of Sh5 million from Gitau and Karanja, which they could not raise. The kidnappers instructed them to call their loved ones to raise the money for their release, leading to their confinement in the house until December 3. On that day, the criminals tied up Gitau and Karanja, bundled them into the Prado, and left for an undisclosed destination.
However, the situation took a turn when the Prado collided on the same day at night, with a digital taxi near Juja Equity Bank. The ensuing chase led to a crash near Magunas Supermarket in Kahawa Wendani, where the stolen vehicle collided with road steel guards and came to a halt.
The robbers - two men and a woman, armed and ready to use force, exited the car, feigning assistance for a supposedly sick accomplice. They subsequently commandeered a motorcycle, leaving Gitau and Karanja tied up in the Prado.
“You find that these people are heavily armed and that they are ready to fire. It tells you that the market for car parts and the resale value of the cars stolen are high,” says Kiilu while referring to this latest incident where Prado motorists are increasingly being targeted by criminals.
Detectives initiated an investigation and later conducted a raid on a compound in Juja, Kiambu County, where they apprehended four individuals who had posed as customers and deceived the victims. The group, including a young woman, was taken into custody almost four days after kidnapping the dealers.
While this Juja incident unveiled a shocking criminal plot, it is not an isolated case. Within the same five days, other vehicles were stolen across the country, forming part of a syndicate where tracking systems are disabled, and the cars are sold both locally and abroad.
For instance, on the same day Gitau and Karanja escaped from captivity by sheer luck, a Toyota Axio was stolen in Utawala. The owner, Joseph Magero, discovered his missing car when he woke up. It had been parked outside his apartment at 11 pm.
An adjacent CCTV camera on a nearby building captured the vehicle speeding away at 6:32 am, just two minutes after leaving the parking lot. It was heading towards the Chokaa area of Kayole.
The tracking device installed had been disabled. Magero reported the incident at Kayole Police Station, hoping for assistance in locating and recovering his car. Unfortunately, the efforts proved futile.
In Jacaranda estate, Dennis Atuya woke up on December 1 to an empty parking lot. His Toyota Axio was missing, and like the previous cases, the tracker had been deactivated. Despite reporting the matter at Buruburu Police Station, Atuya is yet to get his car.
Sikika, a safety campaign organization focused on road safety, says between two to three car theft cases are reported daily. However, the recovery of stolen vehicles appears to be a challenging task for the police.
Jeremiah Nyakweba, a resident of the Donholm area, recounted losing his Toyota Fielder in March this year, and it was never retrieved.
“My car was stolen right at my gate... I followed up, but since then, there has been no progress... I’m on my own,” he laments.
In 2021, a businessman Ibrahim Omondo was violently robbed and his car, a Toyota Prado stolen in Nandi.
His body was later found dumped in a sugarcane plantation within the county in a shocking incident that lift the lid on an emerging car theft syndicate targeting the high-end automobile.
Three suspects were later arrested in connection with the incident and charged before a Kakamega court. They were Hassan Wandati Nando, Rhoda Viyanzi Litsalia and Mwajuma Imbwana Asman.
Since then, cases of theft of Prados have been on a steady increase, raising questions about why would thieves be interested in luxury cars.
“There are no clear statistics on the number of such vehicles, maybe robbers go after such vehicles due to their value,” David Birech head of Investigations at DCI headquarters while acknowledging the rise in theft of Prados.
In another case at Kasarani Police Station, two car dealers had gone to meet a client who was interested in buying a Toyota Prado which they were selling.
It is reported that after meeting the client, the two went missing and the vehicle in question also was allegedly stolen in a matter that is still under probe.
Perhaps due to its intimidating size and luxury such vehicles have been accorded high respect such that it can easily pass police checks without raising eyebrows.
But this was not the case in Kisii County where a Toyota Prado was nabbed ferrying bhang in October this year. According to the police report it was booked under OB21/14/10/2023 at 2130 hrs. The vehicle was reportedly carrying six sacks of the prohibited substance.
Police said they stopped the vehicle but the driver defied and sped off towards Kilgoris and
However, upon reaching Magena, he made a u-turn back towards the Kenyenya direction.
It was reported that on reaching the Metembe area, the driver realized that he was being trailed by our officers, abandoned the said vehicle and escaped on foot.
The said vehicle was towed to Kenyenya Police Station and discovered that it was loaded with stuff suspected to be cannabis sativa whose street value was Sh11 Million were also found.