The smuggling of cars from Brunei into neighbouring Sarawak without paying duties is apparently a big problem. So big, in fact, that the customs department in the state, together with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), impounded 18 luxury vehicles in an operation from July 9 to 12, including a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and several Mercedes-Benz models.

According to The Star, customs deputy director-general Datuk Azimah Abd Hamid said that the cars, which were mostly seized in Kuching and Samarahan, were estimated to be worth around RM4.7 million – putting the figure of unpaid duties at a staggering RM8.15 million.

She added that the cars were all registered in Brunei, even though the owners were all Malaysians. An initial investigation also found that the cars had been in the country for longer than the allowable three months, using false vehicle permits.

This breaches Item 13 of the Customs Duties (Exemption) Order 2017, which stipulates that foreign nationals and Malaysians holding permanent resident status or valid working permits of a foreign country are allowed to bring in one foreign-registered vehicle, provided that it is exported within three months of the date of import.

“We have detained the owners and released them on bail of RM5,000 to RM10,000 each,” she said. “The vehicles have been in Malaysia for more than three months, including some which we believe have been here for more than a year. Some of the vehicles are tinted, which is not allowed in Brunei. This is an indicator that the vehicle has not been brought back to the original country.”

Azimah declined to reveal if the cars were owned by prominent figures, saying only that investigations were still ongoing. “We will investigate further whether this involves a syndicate for smuggling vehicles,” she said, adding that the cases were being investigated under Sections 133 (1) and 135 (1)(g) of the Customs Act.