Land Transportation Office

‘Grand illegal scheme:’ License plate thefts hound LTO as 3 staff arrested

Lance Spencer Yu

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‘Grand illegal scheme:’ License plate thefts hound LTO as 3 staff arrested

STOLEN. Suspects arrested for stealing license plates from an LTO plate making plant stand with government officials on January 26, 2024.

Screenshot from LTO livestream

The LTO has yet to determine how many plates were stolen and whether a crime syndicate is involved in the scheme

MANILA, Philippines – The Land Transportation Office (LTO) is investigating what it calls a “grand illegal scheme” that involves staff stealing license plates and selling them for P20,000 a pair.

So far, three suspects – embossers Jenard Arida and Arjay Anasco and warehouse staff Valeriano Labayno – have been arrested and charged with qualified theft and robbery after being caught in the act of stealing license plates.

After monitoring CCTV footage and being tipped off, the Philippine National Police (PNP) managed to arrest the three suspects while they were smuggling five license plate pieces out of a plate-making plant in Quezon City on Thursday noon, January 25.

The LTO has also ordered a “large-scale manhunt” for Allan Joker Abrigo, the suspected team leader and “boss” of the three suspects.

Sources close to the LTO told Rappler that Abrigo abruptly resigned days before the suspects were arrested. He has since not processed any off-boarding requirements related to his resignation, nor could he be found at home.

Criminal syndicate?

The investigation stemmed from information gathered by LTO in 2023 about the possible theft of license plates. Eventually, the three suspects, who allegedly threatened their co-wokers with harm if they ratted them out, were identified.

The suspects seemed to have been selling the stolen license plates for P10,000 each, or P20,000 for a vehicle’s back and front plate. LTO chief Vigor Mendoza II said they’ve yet to determine how many plates have been stolen by their employees. He also said that they are still trying to determine whether the three suspects were part of any criminal syndicate.

“There is a syndicate behind these people involved in carnapping, smuggling, and other serious crimes. We will run after the mastermind and the buyers. It appears na matagal na itong embedded (they’ve been embedded for a long time) at the LTO. More employees will be investigated as part of our weeding out of scalawags,” Mendoza said.

The PNP and LTO are also still investigating how the stolen license plates tie in with a new car financing modus. Under the scheme, a “financier” would acquire a vehicle and illegally sell the car using “duplicated plates and fake OR/CR.”

Contacts from inside LTO would then give the duplicate plates for P20,000 per pair.

Mendoza said that the modus could be classified as “technical carnapping” given that the criminal is misrepresenting themself as a registered car owner while selling the vehicle. – Rappler.com

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.