THE traffic police have uncovered a licence plate-manufacturing racket in which original plates issued by the Tax Office are duplicated and sold for as much as $5,000 per pair to corrupt motorists, primarily minibus and taxi operators.
Head of the Police Traffic Division, Supt Radcliffe Lewis said he suspects that the fake plates are being made downtown Kingston but investigations have not yet pinpointed the exact location. According to Lewis, the scam came to light after numerous PPV plates removed by the police from defective vehicles went uncollected for an extended period.
“We noticed that a lot of plates were here and the people were not coming back for them,” Lewis told the Sunday Observer last week.
A subsequent audit of seized plates held at the Elletson Road Traffic Headquarters revealed plates bearing similar digits among the inventory at the station.
In one case, the duplicated plates, Lewis said, were seized by the police on two separate occasions from a minibus which plies between Kingston and Port Antonio. The cops who seized the plates were unaware that they were being duped. Upon contacting the driver of the minibus after discovering the discrepancy, a third set of plates bearing the same digits was found on the vehicle. “Each time the plate is taken off they go back and get different plates,” Lewis commented. “This person, every time we take the plates, he buys another for $5,000.”
The offending driver was arrested and slapped with 18 charges, including forgery. “He did not make the plates, but he has knowledge of the procedure and bought them and used them,” Lewis said, explaining the forgery charge. According to Lewis, the main perpetrators in the scam are taxi and minibus operators, although he suspects that private motor vehicle owners are also buying the fake plates in significant numbers.
The traffic department head, although uncertain about the extent of the racket, feels it is widespread based on the number of reports the police have received from motorists regarding their licence plates being duplicated. “It is also a problem to the general public because from time to time people complain to the police that their plates have been cloned,” said Lewis.
He added that the high number of seized licence plates, both private and PPV, still uncollected at the traffic headquarters also suggests that something is amiss. Lewis explained that when plates are removed from a defective vehicle they have to be tested at an examination depot before permission is granted for them to be returned. “The charge for vehicle defects is $7,500 and the exam fee is $3,000,” said Lewis. “As soon as the defects are remedied we release the plates.”
However, unscrupulous motorists, Lewis said, find purchasing the illegal plates a less expensive route. The fake plates, on sight, bear striking similarity to the original, however those displayed by Lewis were made of a thinner material than the plates issued by the collectorate. “The lettering is basically the same, there is not much difference,” said Lewis