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Large and slightly out-of-date Mercedes models are sought after, as spares are easily available on the mainland, but China's rising prosperity, particularly in the areas bordering Hong Kong,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
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

General Cover Teachers - GRIMSBY

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: We are working with a number of ...

SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND FOLKESTONE

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND DOVER

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week