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3Novices:Supercars stolen in Britain end up on sale in Thailand

Bangkok // Dozens of supercars including Lamborghinis, Porsches and BMWs were reported stolen in 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 on dealers in recent weeks.

More than 120 top-of-the-range sports cars have been seized, including some identified as stolen from Britain.

Lamborghinis appear to have been a top choice, making up 32 of the 122 seized vehicles, according to Thailand's Department for Special Investigations (DSI).

Britain is the most popular source for luxury car imports to Thailand because both countries drive on the left-hand-side of the road.

Thai investigators say they have also uncovered an array of scams and loopholes that dealers and corrupt customs officials exploit to circumvent the high import taxes Thailand levies on supercars - usually around 328 per cent.

"More than 1,000 supercars are implicated in the undervaluing scam," said Lt Col Korawat Panprapakorn of the DSI, the officer leading the investigation. "This practice has been going on for a long time."

The tax evasion scams ranged from impressively creative to bizarrely simple.

At least two vehicles were allegedly shipped over from the UK 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 under-declared the true value of the cars, often by tens of thousands of dollars, the DSI said, adding that about 30 businesses were now being investigated.

The stolen vehicles were whisked abroad through a different scam.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation in Britain said most of the cars were bought 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 have been imported into Thailand," the agency said.

"Seven of the 38 vehicles identified were seized by the DSI from a used car dealership in Bangkok."

Those seven were found during a police raid on STT Auto in Bangkok's Ekkamai district, a suburb known for its glitzy nightclubs, restaurants and luxury condos.

The dealership's owner, Indharasak Techaterasiri - who goes by the nickname "Boy Unity" and is well known on the luxury-car circuit - said he did not know the cars were stolen.

He said he imported between 500 and 600 luxury vehicles a year from Britain and his shipping agent always checked the UK's vehicle registry databases to ensure the cars were not stolen.

None of the seven - two Lamborghinis, two BMW M4s, two Porsche Boxsters and a Nissan GTR - came up as stolen, which would make sense if they were only reported after they left port.

"They keep saying on the news that all these cars are stolen, that I am a criminal ... it isn't fair for me," Mr Indharasak said. He rejected any allegation of impropriety and said he was willing to be interviewed by British police.

Thai police have also accused Mr Indharasak of under-declaring the value of imported cars, but he said the valuations were made by customs officials so the fault lay with them.

Last week he filed a suit against the DSI after they shuttered his showroom, allegedly without a warrant.

After he left court, officers from a separate arm of the Thai police promptly arrested him on fraud charges related to complaints from wealthy customers that their cars may now be illegal.

While some of the stolen British supercars have been located, it is unlikely they will be returned to the UK any time soon.

Thailand's justice system is notoriously opaque and slow-moving while the DSI says any court case must reach its conclusion before the cars can be sent back.

"The work is difficult but we will fully investigate this," said Lt Col Korawat said. "It will take time."

* Agence France-Presse



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