Car renter hunts down thieves in Iraq

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It took him a trip to the Middle East, but in the end Mark Stroop from car rental agency Silverline in Ijsselstein retrieved his cars that had been stolen and taken to northern Iraq; and the thieves' family even bought him lunch and compensated him for his troubles.

His story that appeared in Algemeen Dagblad on Thursday made him feel like an instant celebrity. “It was a great adventure for me. Every TV show and newspaper in the country has called me since AD published the story. And you wouldn’t believe the amount of emails I have been getting from people,” he told NLTimes on Friday.

The missing cars parked outside the Department of Crime in Duhok, Iraq (photo: Mark Stroop)

The story reads like something from an exciting modern-day detective novel that started with one Sherzad and one Mehmed renting a black Opel Cascada and a silver Volkswagen Golf from Silverline in September.

“Sometimes I randomly check the track & trace system to see where my cars are; when I saw these two cars driving in Turkey I knew something was wrong, because they had to be returned the next day. I thought to myself: my God, I rented out cars to jihadists.” All he could do was see the vehicles slip into Syria and then into Iraq.

As his company could not stomach the €75,000 loss the vanished cars represented, Stroop knew he had to get them back. He found a guide in a “Mr. Saman”, a Kurdistani Dutchman who works for the police; when they reached the Arbil Province in Iraq, a friend of Mr. Saman’s arranged a car and an AK47 for good measure. “Before we left the friend put a Kalashnikov on the backseat and said it was important to have. That’s when I really knew where I was,” said Stroop.

Mark Stroop, owner of SilverLine BV

But the thieves had meanwhile disabled the track and trace system in the cars, so the help from the local police became crucial. It took Stroop three days to collect all sorts of necessary stamps –from the Iraqi Ministry of Home Affairs, the courthouse, local police and even Interpol- but by then it seemed like everyone in Kurdistan was out looking for the cars from Ijsselstein.

“They had never seen this before in Iraq; some Dutchman who drove over to come look for his cars. That’s probably why they were inclined to help me,” Stroop said.

Eventually the black Opel Cascada and silver Volkswagen Golf, and the men that stole them were located. A long process of red tape followed; Stroop had to prove that the cars were really his, but in November he and two friends Jos and Jolle could go to Durhak to collect them.

Behind the wheel of the Opel Cascada, looking at the Volkswagen Golf, driving from Iraq into Turkey (photo: Mark Stroop)

In Durhak though, he was approached by a captain from the Military Police, the first cousin to Sherzad. The captain’s request: if Stroop would please reconsider filing a complaint against Sherzad. It turned out the cousin could face 15 years in prison for masterminding the car theft.

“I told them I didn’t mind, but that I made €10,000 in costs and they offered to give me €7,000. I wanted to leave there alive, so I eagerly accepted and the atmosphere totally changed; they even offered to buy us lunch,” Stroop said. A 4,500 kilometer drive later, the cars are now back home in the garage in Ijsselstein. Stroop: “After this adventure, these are my babies.”

He said the vehicles are back in Silverline’s rental fleet. “They were brand-new when they were stolen and now they have 10,000 to 15,000 kilometers on them, but also a great story. Maybe that will bring a little extra income to my company, but honestly that is not why I went to get my cars back.”

-with reporting by Zack Newmark