Foreign criminals are being flown into Ireland to smuggle high-powered stolen cars out of the country, the Herald can reveal.
A massive international scam has been uncovered after eagle-eyed gardai seized a top-of-the-range Audi A6 worth almost €50,000 at Rosslare Europort last weekend.
The Polish driver was snared when gardai working at the Co Wexford port noticed an "old false number plate", which did not match the high spec nature of the car.
The Audi had been fitted with cloned licence plates from a hire car, although the vehicle's insurance and tax discs were legitimate.
The suspect has since been arrested but the Herald can reveal that gardai are working on the theory that he had been paid €500 "expenses" to fly here and then pick up the stolen car before immediately leaving the country with it.
"The plan was for him to then drive the car out of the country in an Irish Ferries boat to Cherbourg in France where the vehicle would get picked up by an organised crime gang based in continental Europe," a source said.
"The reality is that it is far too easy for stolen cars like this to be taken out of the country," the source continued.
"Gardai believe the seizure of the car that occurred last weekend may only be the tip of the iceberg in relation to how many cars have been smuggled out of the country and that there are specific locations where dozens of high-end cars are being stored for this purpose."
The car which was seized last Saturday had been stolen in Trim, Co Meath, last November, and officers believe there are many more just waiting to be smuggled out of the country to the continent.
Last August, gardai announced that they had seized €3.3m of stolen cars under Operation Waste since it was set up in 2015.
At the time officers said they had confiscated 275 vehicles, which in many cases had been taken during domestic burglaries.
The garda operation was originally set up to tackle criminal gangs who were exporting stolen cars to west Africa and Eastern Europe via shipping containers.