172 stolen cars in 6 years: Car-smuggling 'mastermind' lands behind bars

A Malaysian police officer showing a picture of Nyo Ah Hai.
A Malaysian police officer showing a picture of Nyo Ah Hai.ASIA NEWS NETWORK

The "mastermind" of a transnational car-smuggling operation was jailed for 7½ years yesterday after he admitted to running syndicates trading nearly $7 million in stolen vehicles over six years.

Nyo Ah Hai, 51, moved the Malaysian-registered cars into Singapore to export them for sale overseas.

The court heard that he ran three such operations between 2008 and last year, and was wanted by the authorities in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as Interpol.

He was caught at Changi Airport on May 14 last year, when he was detained for travelling under a false passport. His operations over six years involved the theft of 172 cars worth about RM19 million (S$6.8 million).

He was charged with 15 counts of voluntarily assisting in the disposal of stolen property and one count of using a fake Malaysian passport to enter Singapore.

Nyo Ah Hai's operations over six years involved the theft of 172 cars worth about RM19 million (S$6.8
million) in total.

Nyo would typically begin an operation by contacting stolen-car suppliers in Malaysia. He would then pay a Thai national to create false sales invoices for the vehicles.

He would e-mail them to 33-year-old Steven Tan, a Singaporean owner of a freight-forwarding company, to obtain cargo permits from Singapore Customs. With the permits, Nyo would have the stolen cars driven from Johor Baru by a Malaysian accomplice known as "Ah Hua". The licence plates would be removed before the cars were towed here by a Singaporean accomplice through Tuas Checkpoint. They would then be stored at one of Nyo's Jurong warehouses.

The cars would be exported to Nyo's customers in Thailand and other countries through an export company owned by Singaporean Erwin Tiong. The alleged tow truck driver, Tan Keok Beng, is facing separate charges for his role in Nyo's operations.

Mr Steven Tan and Mr Tiong cooperated with investigations.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Jane Lim dismissed the mitigation claim from Nyo's lawyer, Mr Jonathan Tan, who said that Nyo had merely been a "conduit" for the market and a "middle-level operative".

She argued that Nyo had planned the operations in detail and sought to recruit others. She added that it was rare for the "mastermind" of such a large-scale transnational operation to be captured.

For each offence of conspiring to dispose of property known to be stolen, Nyo could have been jailed for up to five years and fined.

For attempting to travel under a false passport, he could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined up to $10,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2015, with the headline ''Mastermind' of car-smuggling operation lands behind bars'. Print Edition | Subscribe