Hong Kong criminals take fast lane to riches: Raymond Whitaker on the track of thieves who are making the colony the car-theft capital of the world

MOST of Hong Kong's richer citizens want their new Governor, Chris Patten, to avoid confrontation with China.

They believe that a clash over democracy or the planned new airport would be bad for business. But on one issue they demand a tough stand - the way their luxury cars keep disappearing to the People's Republic.

Hong Kong, with one of the highest concentrations of expensive cars anywhere, has now become the world capital of car theft. Last year 6,400 cars were stolen, or more than one for every 1,000 of its citizens.

This, in its way, was something of a success for the authorities, being a rise of only 100 on the 1991 figure, while the number of cars recovered went up from 4,000 to 4,400. But this year the thieves are gaining once more: in May alone they took 90 Mercedes, one of the most popular makes.

Nearly all the stolen cars are intended for export. Some end up in Malaysia or the Philippines, but most are 'liberated' to order for buyers in China.

Large and slightly out-of-date Mercedes models are sought after, as spares are easily available on the mainland, but China's rising prosperity, particularly in the areas bordering Hong Kong, has led to a rising demand for BMWs and the Japanese Lexus as well.

Hong Kong's overburdened police have enough to worry about already, with the territory suffering an upsurge in violent crime. Heavily armed gangsters are being brought in from China to raid jewellery shops - in the worst incident earlier this year, automatic weapons and a grenade were used, killing one man and wounding a dozen passers-by. Mr Patten has promised to press the Chinese to co-operate in stemming the 'outrageous' increase in armed robberies.

Local authorities in China, however, are suspected of collusion with Hong Kong's triad gangs. The deputy police chief of one town just over the border is said to drive a stolen Toyota Crown, and Communist Party cadres are among the main clients of the car-theft rings. Most of the vehicles are brought in on high- powered speedboats, which can outrun the colony's Marine Police launches with ease.

Hong Kong's Attorney-General, Jeremy Mathews, was among the victims. His Toyota Crown was recovered before it could be smuggled out, but often the thieves work too quickly. In one case a car stolen from the convention centre in Wanchai was intercepted as it was being loaded on to a speedboat in Causeway Bay, seven minutes later.

Police also once found a Mercedes, wrapped in a giant plastic bag, abandoned on a slipway. They speculate that it was a failed attempt to imitate drug smugglers, who tow their contraband behind the vessel. If they are challenged, they can cut the rope and dispose of the evidence.

These, however, are among the few successes for the police. Even when the car is seized, the thieves often get away. Their increasing professionalism is good business for John YorkWilliams, whose company designs and markets car alarms, immobilisers and security systems.

'Any keys can be copied in Hong Kong, even modern 'security' keys,' he said. 'An impression is often taken when they are handed over to parking attendants at restaurants, hotels or nightclubs, the sort of places owners of luxury cars go. At the same time the thieves note from stickers on the windscreen where the car is usually parked, and a couple of nights later they pay you a visit. They find it easy to bluff, bribe or intimidate their way past the guards.'

The despairing Hong Kong authorities are considering a ban on the kind of powerboats the thieves use.

Mr YorkWilliams's phones, meanwhile, are ringing busily. Some of the calls are from buyers of his 'Rottweiler' security system, which features two remote controls and an optional extra keypad which demands a four-figure code to unlock the ignition. They have forgotten how to start their cars.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Account Executive

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you starting out in PR? Do...

Recruitment Genius: Glazier

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist historic buildi...

Recruitment Genius: Luxury Brand - Retail Sales Assistant - Part or Full Time

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Luxury Jeweller and Accessories - Retail Sale...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £15864.28 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Re...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most