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Saturday, July 31, 1999 Published at 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK

World: Europe

Moscow car thieves get green light

Muscovites are sceptical of the police scheme

By Andrew Harding in Moscow

Police in Moscow are so overwhelmed by the huge number of stolen cars in the city that they have decided to stop seizing them and will from now on ignore the problem.

There were reported to be almost 500,000 stolen vehicles in the Russian capital at the end of last year.

The city's notoriously corrupt traffic police say they can no longer cope with the flood of stolen cars pouring into the country, mainly from Europe.

Police car pounds are already overflowing and officials are sinking beneath piles of paperwork.

Few of the vehicles are ever returned to their rightful owners.

Rather than tackling the problem, the police have now decided to ignore it.

New rules

According to a new decree, people driving stolen foreign cars can simply register with the police.

They will be given a piece of paper saying "Wanted by Interpol" to put on their dashboard.

If the real owner fails to track them down within a year the car is officially theirs.

Of course, the rule only applies within Russia itself.

For some motorists who unwittingly bought stolen cars, the scheme may well be good news.

But many Muscovites remain deeply sceptical, convinced that it will simply turn out to be another way for the traffic police to collect bribes.

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