Mercedes Maybach

Car thief brags of prolific success

April 26, 2006

Man says movie inspired him to take stealing to a new level

When Radko Souček, 32, saw Gone in 60 Seconds — the 2000 movie in which Nicolas Cage plays a thief who can steal a car in less than a minute — he knew he had to try it himself.

“If Nicolas Cage could do it, I had to try,” he says.

Police in some countries blamed the movie’s glamorization of car theft for a temporary increase in the crime.

But the movie didn’t cause Souček to steal cars in the Czech Republic; he had been doing that since he nipped his first Škoda at age 11. It just gave him a little extra motivation.

Souček got so good that even a minute was too much time.

“You leave your car, lock it and walk around it toward your house: That’s how long I would need to take it,” he says.

National champion

Sitting in Prague Ruzyně Prison wearing a backward BMW Racing hat, gold glasses and gold-hoop earrings, Souček looks more like an eccentric artist than a prolific car thief.

Police arrested him Jan. 11 in connection with more than 150 car thefts in a six-month period. Authorities refer to him informally as the national champion of car theft.

In this country, that’s saying something.

Car theft remains the single most frequent crime in the Czech Republic, even though it has been on the decline in recent years. The police tallied more than 51,000 thefts last year, down nearly 8,000 from 2004.

In a given year, there are 10 times as many car thefts in the Czech Republic as are in other countries in Europe, according to Martin Pajer, a member of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI).

Many car thieves work in teams, divvying up thefts, forging new car registrations and stripping cars among a handful of people. That was the case in November, when police caught a 15-member gang that had stolen a total of 74 cars over the course of one year and was selling them to organized crime rings.

Souček says he operated by himself, but would not say whether he too sold cars he had stolen to organized crime organizations.

“Most of my cars went east,” he says, adding that his Russian mother has “links in that part of the world.”

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Pavla Kopecká says the government is unable to determine to what extent foreign organized crime supports domestic car theft.

IAATI estimates that 20 percent of cars stolen in the country are sold abroad. The rest are sold domestically or stripped for parts.

Chasing technology

In the old days, by which Souček means the early 1980s, all a thief would need to steal a car was available at a local store.

“With Italian models, all you need are scissors,” he says.

But as technology increasingly countered traditional methods of car theft, the thieves themselves have had to adapt. “Now you need a lot more technology,” Souček says.

Souček says he used a laptop that he modified to be able to disarm car security systems.

That data is what got him.

When he was caught, the police had irrefutable evidence: His laptop held the data of all the cars he had stolen, which had enabled him to break into similar cars quicker.

“You could delete all the data from your laptop, but that’s not good for you because the more data you have, the bigger your possibilities,” he says.

He says that as long as cars rely on software to provide security, other software will be able to circumvent it.

“Every car has its weak spot,” he says.

Going free?

Souček faces up to 12 years in prison but says he is confident he will be released in nine months because the police won’t finish compiling their case — and therefore bring Souček to trial — before then.

In the Czech Republic, prisoners cannot be held for more than a year without trial. Officials with the State Attorney’s Office were asked about the likelihood of Souček being charged, but they did not get back to The Prague Post as of press time.

If Souček goes free, he says he doesn’t plan to stop stealing cars; it’s too addictive.

In Gone in 60 Seconds, Cage’s character has a car he has always wanted to steal but never could: Eleanor, a 1967 Mustang GT500.

Souček’s Eleanor is a Mercedes Maybach, which has only been in production for a few years and costs at least $305,000 (7.1 million Kč). He says there are only a few Maybachs in the Czech Republic, but he knows in what cities they can be found.

But Souček says he could just as easily take his act to France or Spain.

“I know a lot of people abroad, in the West. I would like to take my activities abroad to show them a little of how it’s done.”

— Petr Kašpar contributed to this report.

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