Ban fails to end car smuggling
By LUISA TAM
A BAN on right-hand drive vehicles in China has failed to stop the outflow of stolen cars from Hongkong as mainlanders find ways to avoid detection.
The mainland market continues to be lucrative, according to one source, despite the fact that Chinese authorities have stopped registering, or issuing licences for, right-hand drive cars.
He said buyers could forge licences and licence plates for their illegally acquired cars.
''There is no need for them to go to the authorities to apply for a licence. They duplicate the genuine licences and licence plates they already hold and use them for the ill-gotten ones. By operating it this way, they would never have to approach the authorities to apply for a new licence,'' the source said.
The police are secretly concerned that such practices are keeping the demand for luxury cars up.
Latest figures show 579 cars were stolen in Hongkong in January, and most of them are believed to have been smuggled into China. This represents nearly a three per cent increase compared with the same period last year.
Last year saw more than 6,918 cars stolen, up 8.9 per cent compared with 6,352 the year before.
The source said there was big demand for Japanese cars which are often sold at about $100,000 on the black market.
He said a recent ''auction'' of stolen vehicles was held at a secret venue in Shenzhen. Cars such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Toyota Crowns have been sold at such meetings. The most popular makes are often Japanese and most clients are taxi drivers.
''These people need the cars because of their profession. If they have to buy a new model they will have to pay at least $300,000 to import one, but at these auctions they only pay one-third of that price. Their demand is keeping a steady stream of cars being stolen and shipped out of Hongkong,'' claimed the source.
He said a taxi driver in China could operate several vehicles under the same licence and registration.
Meanwhile, a police source said car thieves were becoming increasingly bold.
''There have been reports that some car owners actually received calls from the thieves pretending to be Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers telling them not to report the theft as the matter was under control. They used this trick as a delaying tactic.
''[On one occasion] these criminals somehow managed to get the owner's home number, possibly from some documents left inside the compartment. They then rang the owner up to inform him about the theft and said the matter was being dealt with by the PSB.