ITANAGAR: Stolen cars 26 in number, mostly luxurious Toyota Fortuners, and worth more than Rs.9 crore have been recovered by police in the state capital in the past six months, including one that reportedly belongs to a relative of former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav.

And it all began with a tip-off stemming from a personal enmity.

Capital Complex superintendent of police Tumme Amo said that police received a phone call back in December about the questionable ownership of a Toyota Fortuner.

“This person had some personal enmity with the owner of the vehicle and claimed that it was actually stolen,” Amo told the journalists huddled around his desk in his office here today.

He said that first theft led them to investigate a number of other cases of stolen SUVs expanding across state borders, and a methodical network of auto thieves that appears to have its roots in the national capital.

The cars – 22 Toyota Fortuners, two Suzuki Brezzas, and two Hyundai Cretas – were recovered from throughout Itanagar, including in buildings posing as godowns, and at interstate entry points.

Amo said that one evening, two of his officers were offered Rs.4 lakh not to make arrests.

The police had arrested two men – Pasang Tamang and Vickey Gurung – originally based out of Siliguri in West Bengal, for their involvement in the shady secondhand car deals.

The two are currently out on bail.

Most of the cars were stolen in Delhi, Amo alleged, under the supervision of one Tarun Sheoran from Haryana, described as a habitual offender and someone whom insurance companies are familiar with.

Once stolen the cars’ chassis numbers would be changed, and they would be driven out and into Guwahati, Assam from where they made their way into the hands of the eventual owners in Arunachal Pradesh.

A hierarchy was formed for payments depending on the kind of job one did in the racket, with those doing the actual thieving allegedly paid Rs.2 to 3 lakh, while those who drove the vehicles were paid more.

The Fortuners were then sold off for around Rs.12-13 lakh, less than half the price of a new base model.

Police estimate that at current prices the total worth of the cars would be approximately Rs.9.34 crore.

During the investigation they found that one of the cars had been stolen at gunpoint from a relative of former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav six years ago, with a case registered in Gurugram near the national capital.

The cars were reported stolen by the original owners across police stations in Delhi and Haryana.

Amo, however, said that most of the original owners did not appear to be too concerned as they had already been paid insurance for the cars.

He also said that the final buyers have all said they did not know the cars were stolen – but according to the law the onus to prove their innocence lies on them.

Now, with investigations still on, the police have another issue to deal with.

Straining under poor infrastructure, they do not have much space to house these cars, Amo said.

They are currently at the police station in Itanagar and the force is running out of space to keep them.