The excerpted article was written by Sean Davidson CTV News Toronto

TORONTO — Four people have been charged after police busted an alleged $1.6-million car theft ring that spanned across southern Ontario, exporting high-end stolen vehicles out of Canada.

Police in Hamilton, Ont. began their investigation, dubbed Project Seagull, in August 2019 after authorities became aware of the thefts.

The auto theft ring, which operated out of the city of Hamilton, targeted mainly rental cars, police allege.

Seven of the 39 vehicles stolen were found on a shipping container bound for Iraq, police said. Investigators believe other vehicles that have not yet been recovered have been shipped around the world.

On Dec. 5, police executed search warrants on six Hamilton businesses and three residences. While conducting their searches, officers seized 12 more stolen vehicles, numerous vehicle parts, cash, gold jewelry and other suspected stolen items.

Police said they also recovered fraudulent vehicle identification numbers, shipping documents and stolen Mexican passports.

How the alleged car theft ring operated

The majority of the auto thefts carried out by the accused targeted rental car companies, police allege.

Police said the suspects would use fraudulent documents to rent vehicles and never return them.

In some cases, the suspects would allegedly rent vehicles and clone the keys before returning them. Police said the suspects would then go back and steal the cars with the cloned keys.

“These four accused have a network going on,” Det. Sgt. Andrea Torrie said on Monday. “We have evidence they have probably been doing this for a couple of years.”

“We’re hoping we caused a major disruption in their business at this point.”

Who police charged

Three men and one woman have been charged in connection with the car thefts.

Yehia Al-Jbouri, 50, faces more than 50 charges in connection with the investigation, including possession of property obtained by crime and trafficking of property obtained by crime.

Zeyad Al-Khafaji, 45, has been charged with fraudulent concealment and conspiracy to commit.

Amer Al-Ogaili, 46, faces over 25 charges, including possession of property obtained by crime and trafficking in property obtained by crime.

Nahla Khayon, 46, is facing one charge of possession of property obtained by crime.

Three of the accused were released on their own recognizance and their first court appearance is Jan. 6, 2020. Khayon has been released on a Promise To Appear, with a future court date set for Jan. 21, 2020.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates auto thefts costs Canadians close to $1 billion yearly. In 2018, southern Ontario alone saw 9,500 thefts.

Hamilton police is asking anyone with information to contact Detective Sergeant Andrea Torrie at 905-546-2991 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.

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