Is the Czech Republic a paradise for car thieves?

It might seem incredible, but an estimated one in six cars in the Czech Republic could be stolen or at least contain stolen parts. That's according to shocking new figures released by the Association for the Protection of Car Owners, or SOVA. The organisation claims there are almost half a million stolen cars on the roads. Radio Prague's Rob Cameron has the story.

SOVA's staggering claim that one in six of the 2.7 million cars on the Czech roads are stolen was based on data collected by a company called Cebia, the Czech Republic's market leader in vehicle identification. Each year Cebia runs checks on some 250,000 cars, and usually finds that around 15 percent of them are of doubtful origin - Vehicle Identification or VIN numbers have been erased and so on. Cebia's managing director Martin Pajer says the Czech Republic is something of a paradise for car thieves.

"The Czech Republic accounts for a hugely disproportionate share of the cars stolen in Europe each year. Ten times as many cars are stolen here than in neighbouring Germany. Around three and a half million new cars are sold in Germany each year, and about 70,000 - 80,000 cars are stolen. Here in the Czech Republic, 150,000 new cars are sold each year, and 25,000 cars are stolen."

Czech car thieves aren't picky - BMWs, Audis and Volkswagens are always popular, but seeing as 40% of the cars on the roads are Skodas, it's mostly Fabias, Octavias and Superbs that fall into the wrong hands. Either they're broken up for spare parts, or their VIN numbers and other identification marks are replaced and they're re-sprayed and sold as second hand. Martin Pajer says the situation is desperate, but a solution is at hand.

"There is a solution, and it's not even something we've thought up here at Cebia or even here in the Czech Republic - they're already doing it elsewhere in Europe, for example in Hungary. Back in 1996, the situation was worse in Hungary than it is here today. They introduced new, more thorough checks and within two years they'd managed to reduce the number of cars stolen each year from 30,000 to 8,000. The answer is stricter controls of all the vehicle's identification marks each time a vehicle is registered in the Czech Republic and each time the vehicle changes owner."

The government has set up a working group within the Interior Ministry to draw up proposed changes to the law. But according to Martin Pajer, the government is under pressure from both car manufacturers and importers, who are wary of the increased cost of making cars harder to recondition and sell on. And the existing laws don't help - Czech policemen, for example, are allowed to snoop round scrap yards, but only in the areas reserved for customers.