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International recovery of stolen or misappropriated vehicles and bona fide third-party purchases

International recovery of stolen or misappropriated vehicles and bona fide third-party purchases

In daily practice, we follow many cases of misappropriation of cars registered in Italy. These are often cars granted for use to individuals by leasing companies. Such cars, disregarding contractual agreements, are sold to third parties using false documents.

In some cases, following police and Interpol investigation, the cars are found and temporarily seized in other European countries, often in Germany. However, the discovery does not bring the vehicle recovery phase to an end, as the release of the vehicle in favor of the owner is frequently prevented by third parties who claim to have purchased the vehicle in good faith.

The issue is not trivial, since in Germany it is possible to purchase vehicles in good faith, as there is neither a registry equivalent to the Italian PRA nor a rule equivalent to Article 1156 of the Italian Civil Code that excludes the bona fide purchase of registered vehicles. German law only excludes the bona fide purchase of stolen vehicles (§ 935 BGB).

It should be noted in this regard that if a vehicle is found in Germany, German law applies to determine its ownership (lex rei sitae). However, if the purchase and sale took place in Italy and the vehicle was subsequently transported to Germany, Article 1156 of the Italian Civil Code may possibly be invoked to exclude a bona fide purchase.

If the alleged bona fide purchase took place in Germany, it will have to be ascertained that the buyer actually could not have suspected the dubious origin of the vehicle. German law is very strict with professional purchasers, such as vehicle dealers, requiring that even in cases of vehicles of foreign origin, they must take all appropriate measures - perhaps with the help of local experts - to find out whether the vehicle is of correct origin. In this regard, it should be pointed out that through the Italian PRA registry and the digital certificate of ownership any buyer can easily find out who the owner of the vehicle is.

Since any bona fide purchase is a civil matter, the criminal authority is required to make a summary assessment to decide whether to release the vehicle to the owner or the bona fide purchaser. Such a decision is without prejudice to any civil claims, however, the decision greatly affects the real chances of obtaining the return of the vehicle or compensation for damages, especially if the buyer is not solvent and resells the vehicle. That is why it is advisable, in case the German authorities find the misappropriated vehicle, to request access to the criminal file and immediately provide all the elements that can exclude the buyer’s good faith.

If necessary, you can contact our lawyer Martin Cordella (m.cordella@dolce.de).