BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai customs officials sold off hundreds of seized luxury vehicles on Thursday (July 6), including dozens of supercars - although many lots were removed at the last minute after it emerged they were stolen from abroad.
Thailand's role in the global grand theft auto trade has received fresh attention in recent weeks after British police said dozens of stolen supercars had been whisked to the country.
Police in Bangkok have since launched a crackdown, seizing dozens of illegally imported vehicles, including at least seven stolen from Britain, and arresting a handful of car dealers.
The country places a tax of more than 300 per cent on top-end vehicles - a surcharge that investigators say fuels a lucrative black market aided by corrupt buyers, dealers and government officials.
Thailand's Customs Department holds an annual auction for vehicles seized in criminal cases.
On Thursday, buyers raised bids for a variety of gleaming sports cars, from Ferraris to Aston Martins, Lamborghinis as well as luxurious Rolls Royces and Bentleys.
Most were confiscated for being illegally smuggled or because the owners had tried to avoid paying the full import tax, while others had been seized from drug gangs and other criminals.
But 95 cars were pulled from the auction sheet in the weeks running up to the bid after checks showed they were stolen from overseas and did not belong to Thailand.
Deputy Customs Department spokesman Kreecha Kirdsriphan insisted the oversight was an innocent mistake.
"When we discovered that those cars were stolen in those countries, we moved them out from the auction list," he told AFP.
Most of the stolen vehicles came from Britain, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan - all countries where drivers drive on the left-hand side of the road, like Thailand.
Among the vehicles removed was a McLaren 650s supercar with a starting price in the auction of 30 million baht (S$1.2 million).
British police contacted Thai officials to say it had been stolen from the United Kingdom, Kreecha said.
Even without those vehicles, the Customs Department hopes to make some US$14.6 million (S$20.2 million) from around 300 cars going under the hammer in Thursday's auction. The Customs Department is then able to use the funds in its budget.
The most expensive car on the list on Thursday was a bright red Ferrari California with a 20.6 million baht starting price. The vehicle has a base price of around US$235,000 in the United States.
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.