The arrest of a key player in Songkhla's stolen motorcycle trade is likely to reduce the number of thefts of the vehicles, police say.
Thanes: Expects thefts to fall after arrest
Muhamud Duangkaew, 33, was arrested on Jan 13 after a series of investigation breakthroughs in what police called the "rampant problem" of motorcycle thefts in the southern province.
A large number of thefts have taken place over the past four or five months, Pol Maj Thanes Pongrod, chief investigator of Muang district police, said.
An average of three to four motorcycles were being stolen every day in downtown areas of the district, he said.
Police say Mr Muhamud was a key broker of stolen and illegal items and has a history of involvement in Singha Nakhon district's drug trade.
Most of the motorcycle theft gangs in the southern province are teenagers, though it remains unclear how many are involved, Pol Maj Thanes said.
The stolen motorcycles have been sold in some cases to illegal agents outside the province, which complicated the task of finding the major culprits.
Pol Maj Thanes said tracking down those responsible for the thefts took months. The key breakthrough that led to Mr Muhamud's arrest came after some of the teenage suspects were filmed on security cameras close to where recent heists had taken place.
At first nobody recognised any of the suspects captured in the footage, he said.
The investigators believed the suspects were teenagers from out of town. Informants had been supplying the police with information about unruly local youngsters, but none of their descriptions matched the images of the suspects.
The clip showed the suspects fleeing in the direction of Chana and Singha Nakhon districts where many teenage motorcycle gangs are active.
Police headed to tambon Nathap of Chana district and showed the footage of the suspects to local leaders, who recognised one of them.
Police say the suspect, a 17-year-old boy, confessed to having sold some stolen motorcycles to Mr Muhamud.
Police then arrested Mr Muhamud on Jan 13. Police seized from him nine stolen motorcycles sold to him for between 3,000 and 5,000 baht each, Pol Maj Thanes said.
Mr Muhamud allegedly admitted he had resold some of the stolen vehicles to buyers outside of Songkhla. Officers say he told police he had bought about 20 stolen motorcycles from the Nathap boy who identified him. He allegedly confessed to reselling about 70 stolen motorcycles in total to various buyers, though police believe the number was closer to 100.
Pol Lt Gen Pisit Pisuthisak, commander of Provincial Police Region 9, said the motorcycle thieves typically work in teams of two. The Honda Wave 125i model is the most sought-after bike for thieves because it is not equipped with security locks, he said.
The thieves would wait around in parking lots, target the motorcycles and then steal them by inserting a screwdriver in the ignition to start the motorcycle.
The theft takes only about 30 seconds.
Sometimes the thieves traded the stolen motorcycles for drugs, Pol Lt Gen Pisit added. Police were hunting down three more adult suspects and one more teenager believed to be part of the gang in Songkhla, he said.
"The problem is the culprits happen to be young people. They are sent to a remand home where they usually spend a short period of time before being released, only to go back to the illegal trade again," Pol Maj Thanes said.
Mr Muhamud's arrest is a sign of progress in the crackdown against motorcycle theft, Pol Col Sunthorn Chalermkiat, deputy commander of Provincial Police Region 9, said.
With Mr Muhamud in custody, police expect the rate of motorcycle thefts to drop, at least for the time being.
Police have urged motorcycle owners to install an extra lock on their vehicles.
As part of the crackdown, authorities manning roadside security checkpoints will also check motorcycles for ignitions that have been tampered with, Pol Col Sunthorn said. The authorities can seize motorcycles on the spot if they appear to have been stolen, he said.
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- Writer: Wassayos Ngamkham