BANGKOK • Dozens of supercars, including Lamborghinis, Porsches and BMWs, have been stolen from the streets of Britain and shipped to Thailand in a complex scam that police from both countries are now rushing to dismantle.
Sparked by a British request to retrieve the lifted vehicles, detectives in Bangkok have launched a series of raids against dealers in recent weeks. More than 120 top-of-the-range sports cars have since been seized, including some identified as stolen from Britain.
Thai investigators say they have also uncovered an array of scams and loopholes that dealers and corrupt Customs officials exploit to circumvent eye-watering taxes the South-east Asian kingdom places on supercars - usually around 328 per cent.
"More than 1,000 supercars are implicated in the undervaluing scam," Lieutenant-Colonel Korawat Panprapakorn, the officer leading the investigation told Agence France-Presse. "This practice has been going on for a long time."
Britain is the most popular source for luxury car imports to Thailand because both countries drive on the left-hand side of the road.
While Thailand's economy has been slumping in recent years, its billionaire class is doing just fine and gleaming supercars remain a common sight on the streets of Bangkok - even if they spend much of their time crawling along the city's gridlocked streets.
Lamborghinis appear to have been the top choice, making up 32 of the 122 seized vehicles, according to Thailand's Department for Special Investigations (DSI).
Lamborghinis appear to have been the top choice, making up 32 of the 122 seized vehicles, according to Thailand's Department for Special Investigations.
The tax evasion scams ranged from impressively creative to bizarrely simple.
At least two vehicles were allegedly shipped over from Britain in parts and then assembled in Thailand to avoid the triple tax rate.
Eight Lamborghinis were simply declared as being the cheaper Gallardo model when they were in fact the much more expensive Aventador. Customs officers either did not notice or deliberately turned a blind eye to the easy-to-spot error.
But in the vast majority of cases, dealers underdeclared the true value of the cars to pay less tax, the DSI said, adding some 30 businesses were now being investigated.
The outright stolen vehicles were whisked abroad through a different scam. Sources with knowledge of the investigation in Britain say most of the cars were bought there on finance and shipped to Thailand.
When the vehicles were at sea, the owners reported them stolen and stopped paying the monthly repayments.
Britain's National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service confirmed it was working with Thai police to track the vehicles.
"To date 38 (stolen) UK vehicles, identified by their engine and chassis numbers and valued at over £2.3 million (S$4 million) have been imported into Thailand," the agency told AFP.
Seven of those vehicles were seized by the DSI from a used car dealership in Bangkok.
While some of the stolen cars have been located, it is unlikely they will be returned any time soon. "The work is difficult but we will fully investigate this," Lt-Col Korawat said. "It will take time."