What started as a technological aid to police has turned into an international diplomatic incident, as German authorities are now convinced scores of high-end autos stolen here have ended up in the possession of those with family or business ties to the president of Tajikistan.
The Tajik government of President Emomali Rahmon has responded by saying it would look into the matter but called the allegations a “provocation” and “astounding.”
The Tajikistan ambassador to Germany issued a statement noting that “German cars cross several state borders before reaching Tajikistan. Any falsified documents would have been discovered by customs services on those borders.”
German press reports note that the German government has been quietly asking for help in resolving the issue since 2011.
It began with reports of 200 stolen cars, including 93 high-end BMWs. German press reports note that while car theft is common in the capital, helping police in these cases was the fact that the high-end cars had secretly embedded GPS systems, installed as anti-theft devices and programmed to self-activate if the car shows an unusual driving pattern.
Berlin detectives weren’t surprised when the secret GPS reports indicated the cars had been stolen and taken outside of Germany.
Lots of cars get stolen in Germany and then hauled off to points around Eastern Europe. Poland is such a common destination for stolen cars that there are even rhyming poems about it: “Heute gestohlen, morgen in Polen” (Stolen today, tomorrow in Poland), or the Berliners’ mocking and oft-repeated notion for a Polish tourism slogan, “Come to Poland, your car is already here.”
Poland, after all, is only 50 miles from Berlin.
But when police looked at the stolen cars on computer maps, they were pinging from Tajikistan. Even for German stolen cars that was a bit unusual. And unusual for stolen cars here takes some doing. For instance, the Ukrainian justice minister drives a Mercedes-Benz stolen from Germany.
But these cars had passed beyond the Black and Caspian seas and then would have had to pass through either Russia or Iran to get to Tajikistan, on the northeastern edge of Afghanistan.
Berlin detectives went to Tajikistan and reported that the cars were being used by the inner circle of President Rahmon. The German newspaper Bild reported that Tajik officials denied the German allegations, though they also refused to produce the purchase records for the vehicles.
Earlier this year, the Tajik foreign minister canceled an official visit to Berlin as a protest against the allegations.