The main suspect, who is reported to have sold the goods over the internet, has already fled the country according to Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner.
Austrian authorities received a tip-off from a police station in Passau, Germany. Police there noticed that hundreds of engines and vehicles parts were being auctioned off on eBay by someone calling themselves motorenprofi.at.
Investigators from SOKO were able to identify 30 stolen vehicles from the pictures on eBay. After making a fake purchase they were able to track down the suspect in Styria. The Interior Ministry said he has been involved in 291 car thefts.
The main suspect, identified as 31-year old Andreas W., had already fled by the time police began to look for him – as he was also being pursued for non-payment of tax. He went to Budapest, then Qatar and onto the Philippines – where until recently he was still selling stolen car parts online.
"It's only a matter of time before we apprehend him," SOKO boss Rainer Erhart said.
Andreas W. is part of a larger network, police said. Cars are stolen in Germany, Italy and France and delivered by trucking companies to Poland. Andreas W. then bought parts of the gutted cars and sold them via various Internet sites.
Christian Stella, Deputy Director of the Austrian National Police, said that criminals are increasingly selling on stolen cars as parts as it has become much harder to sell them in one piece, because police have become so much better at tracking them down.
In 2009 a total of 9,289 cars were reported stolen in Austria, which prompted the government to set up the SOKO in Eisenstadt to investigate car thefts. This is their biggest case so far.