Mechanic behind mileage tampering denies knowledge of used car scam

One of the mechanics behind the tampering of odometers in a racket which has seen hundreds tricked into buying cars older than as declared by sellers, is claiming ignorance about the intentions of the dealerships that sought his services.

Last week MaltaToday revealed how Rokku Autodealer and Tal-Qasab Autosales were behind the racket that saw hundreds of customers cheated when purchasing Japanese imported second-hand cars.

The dealers tampered with the vehicle mileage and used forged certificates to get Transport Malta’s seal of approval when registering the vehicles.

While sources who spoke to this newspaper said they witnessed the Tal-Qasab dealership owner Chris Spiteri availing of the services of a San Gwann mechanic to tamper with the odometers, the mechanic – who also directed this newspaper to his lawyer – has denied any wrongdoing.

“I was just offering a service – mileage correction… When you go to an ironmonger to cut a key, does he ask you whether the key was stolen and whether you will be using it to enter someone’s house?” the mechanic said.

The mechanic’s lawyer insisted with MaltaToday that his client was never involved in any illegal activity. “He has the equipment to carry out odometer corrections, but he was never involved in any fraudulent schemes.”

But the mechanic was also spoken to by the police, but not under caution.

READ ALSO: Dealers in used car racket: Silence and denials

When contacted, the mechanic insisted he was carrying out mileage correction, a process of adjusting or re-calibrating the number of miles a car’s odometer displays on its digital dashboard.

He first denied giving his services to Chris Spiteri, but later admitted that he had no knowledge of the racket. “What if he tells you there is mistake? How am I supposed to know what he intends doing? Mileage correction is a service that is widely used across the world. Odometer correction is a service like many other services in the car industry,” he said.

Industry experts who spoke to this newspaper confirmed that the service is available across the country, and can be carried out using hardware which is also widely available online.

“What someone does with that service, is not my business,” the mechanic said.

During the phone call, the mechanic emphatically denied any involvement, but was apologetic towards the car dealerships and pleaded with this newspaper not to take the issue any further.

“I even have my own client who has now spoken to them (Tal-Qasab and Rokku) for compensation and a two-year warranty,” he said. “You have no idea of the damage you are causing.”

“I’m not saying that what they did was good, but haven’t they suffered enough? Haven’t they got their punishment?” he said.

He also said the two dealers were contacted by JEVIC representatives from Japan. “They have been asking about what the whole issue in Malta is about.”

When challenged as to why he was defending them when he was claiming ignorance about their deeds, the mechanic changed tack. “I’m defending myself. Nobody in Malta does everything legally (subajhom dritt), nobody.”

He also said that “everyone” had played a part in the racket. “Who started everything? You know who started everything – the police and Transport Malta. They did not carry out the necessary checks. That’s why the others took advantage of the system,” he said.

Since MaltaToday revealed the odometer scandal last Sunday, scores of people have reached out to this newspaper to detail their cases.

The report led to the used cars lobby UVIA to carry out random checks on members after the mileage racket revelations. The Used Vehicle Importers Association unanimously agreed to implement stricter measures. “One of the said measures is that, apart from the current due diligence process that is already in place, the association will commit to introduce a yearly random check on members with the aim of ensuring that they are being compliant with the respective standards,” UVIA secretary general Albert Fenech said.

Fenech said the association has always stressed that its members should pursue the best quality standards and requirements, both for the sake of the consumer and the reputation of genuine members alike.

Transport Malta denied any involvement in the scam, insisting it relies on official documentation provided by the police and customs officials who receive the used cars.

“TM does not inspect any vehicles coming from non-EU countries, including Japan,” it said. “The role of TM is to register such vehicles with the documents submitted by the motor dealer which include customs and police verifications including a passed VRT test. The Malta Police Force has the full support and cooperation of the ministry and Transport Malta during the investigation on the matter which is ongoing.”

Despite the denial, TM still has access to the JEVIC database which has the original certification inputted into it by Japanese inspectors. The database is publicly accessible as well but no cross-verification is done when car dealers present the paperwork.

How does the racket work?

A second-hand car dealership in Malta appoints a representative who is tasked with bidding for the cars in auctions that take place in Japan.

The Maltese importer sets a maximum bidding price that is normally linked to the make and mileage of the car. If the bid is successful, JEVIC inspectors carry out a review and issue a certificate of approval.

In its pre-export report JEVIC includes the car model, date of inspection, location of inspection, vehicle identification number (chassis number), odometer type and reading, certification number and the inspector’s details.

This information is logged in a database that is easily accessible online using the car’s chassis number.

Industry sources told MaltaToday that the racket starts the moment the cars arrive in Malta.

When they are offloaded at Laboratory Wharf in the Grand Harbour, the police have to fill in the Vehicle 5 (VEH 005) customs and police inspection form.

The manual form contains several fields, including one where the car’s dashboard mileage is listed. However, it appears that dealers often use the excuse that the car battery has been exhausted as a result of the length of time it took the cargo ship to reach Malta so that the dashboard mileage cannot be read.

In these instances, the inspector leaves the mileage field blank so that the dealer can fill it in later when the car is started using a booster. Sources have indicated that although there may be genuine cases of car batteries that fall flat, many times these would have been disconnected by the dealer.

The blank field allows rogue dealers to write down the tampered mileage at a later stage.

Reversing the mileage

Once the car is at the dealers’ yard, it is taken to an auto garage, where the mileage is tampered with and reduced.  In tandem, a forged JEVIC certificate listing the fake mileage is printed at a printing press in the south of Malta.

The new fake mileage is also listed in the empty field of the port inspection form.

Industry sources said that the documentation, including the forged JEVIC certificate is then presented to Transport Malta. In what appears to be incompetence at best and corruption at worst, the TM official receiving the documentation does not bother to verify the documentation with the online JEVIC database and the imported vehicle is given the official stamp with the tampered mileage.

The car is then marketed in the showroom with low mileage and sold to unwitting customers.

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