HARESH SAYS: Put brakes on car cloning syndicates

As published in Malay Mail today
 
HARESH SAYS
By Haresh Deol

IT was supposed to be another day at work. Instead, I received a rude shock last Thursday from a used car dealer.
 
“Bro, did you lodge a police report that your car was stolen?” were his first few words on the phone.
Car? Police report?
 
In 2010, I bought a used Mazda RX8. The first owner, a diplomat with the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, shipped the car into the country from Japan. The car was then sold to another man and I was technically the third owner. I had all the paper work, including copies of the AP, and secured a bank loan with ease.
 
Despite what some may say about the rotary-engine petrol-guzzling beast, it was one of a kind. The annual road tax was only RM70 (due to its 1.3cc engine) and maintaining it was surprisingly cheap. However, I did not do justice to it and decided to let it go in 2014. It was on Dec 22, 2014, when I sold it to a used car dealer. I have been “car-less” since, as I prefer to go around on 
two-wheels instead.
 
“But the Road Transport Department (RTD) records show your car has been blacklisted because it was reported stolen,” the dealer continued.
 
He had a disappointed tone as he was at RTD to complete a sales transaction but was unable 
to do so.
I quickly turned detective. Several phone calls later, I found out a police report was lodged by a man in Sungai Petani, Kedah, claiming his "silver Mazda", bearing the same registration number as my previous vehicle, was stolen last month.
 
A copy of last Thursday’s Malay Mail lying on my desk caught my eye. '70,000 cloned cars on Malaysian roads’, read the headline. It looks like my previous car has been cloned!
 
I did a quick search online and found someone had posted about a stolen “silver Mazda RX8” bearing the same registration as my previous dark grey car. The Facebook posting stated the car "was stolen at 4.15pm on Dec 29, 2015 at RCP Studio Sungai Petani”. 
 
The posting urged anyone who spotted the vehicle to contact a 016 number. I tried calling the number several times but to no avail.


 
I phoned the investigating officer based at the Kuala Muda district police headquarters and told him the scenario. He confirmed blacklisting the vehicle and requested me to email documentations to show I was indeed the car owner. I relayed the message to the used car dealer as he had the details. After all, he was the owner of the vehicle. According to the dealer, an email was sent to the officer later in the day.
 
The following day I lodged a police report over the matter. The policeman on duty, upon checking police records, confirmed my previous vehicle was registered under the used car dealer’s name. The chassis and engine numbers matched the records. Hours later, I was told the dealer had also lodged a police report.
I find the whole episode dumbfounding.

1. If police records showed the owner of the vehicle was the used car dealer, why did the investigating officer accept the report by the Sungai Petani man and blacklist the car?
 
2. Did the person who lodged a report in Sungai Petani provide any proof (registration card or other supporting documents) that he was the owner of the vehicle?
 
3. Why wasn’t this case red-flagged by police or RTD as we only knew about it when the dealer was about to sell the car to an interested buyer?
 
4. How long has the silver car bearing the same registration number as my previous car been on the road?
 
5. What if I had kept my dark grey RX8? Would I be responsible if the silver vehicle was involved in an accident or crime?
 
6. Is the man in Sungai Petani aware he could be a victim of a cloning syndicate? Perhaps he should shed some light as to how he bought the vehicle.
 
I feel for the dealer as this episode could translate into a loss of business, though it is not his fault. I am unclear if the man in Sungai Petani is fully aware of the situation at hand. As for me, I am annoyed. If the silver car was recently “brought in” and cloned, I would suspect an insider would have known the car I had sold remained with the dealer for some time and as such it would be the perfect car to clone. I hope I am wrong.
 
Malay Mail, had last Thursday, reported the authorities believe 70,000 cloned cars were on Malaysian roads with 20,000 in Selangor alone. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and RTD had since last year joined forces to weed out cloned cars. Since last April, 11 people including three RTD officers had been detained with more than 700 cloned cars seized.
 
Steevan Sinniah, who owns a Honda Odyssey, related to this newspaper how he spotted another Honda Odyssey, with the same colour and registration number, in Kuala Lumpur last month. A dentist in Gurun did not know the Toyota Wish he bought online was a cloned vehicle until he was detained during an RTD operation on Dec 29 last year.
 
Singapore’s The New Paper reported last September that websites and Facebook pages boast one can own an eight to 10 year-old BMW, Mercedes Benz or Audi for between RM14,000 and RM40,000. The daily quoted a cloned car dealer as saying: "Where else can you get such a price. In Malaysia, (there's) no COE (Certificate of Entitlement). You can drive your cloned car until you die."
 
This cloning business is getting out of hand. Used car dealers are not amused as the market is now flooded with scrapped cars, mainly from Singapore, sold at tenth of its market value. Some are willing to take the risk so that they can impress their family or friends with their ride. Besides breaking the law, cloned vehicles are not insured and this poses a risk to those in the vehicle if an accident happens.
 
To spot two vehicles bearing the same registration number shows how flawed the system is. MACC and RTD should get cracking and put an end to these cloning syndicates. There should be strict control at the borders and the authorities must ensure foreign-registered vehicles that enter the country do not “vanish”.

HARESH is executive editor of 
Malay Mail. He can be reached at 
haresh@mmail.com.my or on 
Twitter @HareshDeol

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