Celebrities’ luxury cars seized after tax scam

A LARGE number of mega-rich motorists have had their luxury cars seized as part of an operation into a car importation scam.

Customs has seized 75 deluxe cars, worth between €100,000 and €285,000 each, as part of a probe into VAT fraud.

Officials estimate a further 75 luxury cars will be impounded under Operation Viking by the year’s end.

Revenue officers have collected €1.2 million in taxes and penalties and expect to recoup a further €1m.

Some of the country’s top businessmen and socialites have been hit in the operation and had their cars impounded immediately.

“We are talking about a variety of people, including a number of rich and famous,” said Maria Meyler, a principal officer in customs.

“Many of them belong to a circle of friends who are linked socially or through business. One of the car owners was linked with nine or 10 other people involved.”

The cars seized include Aston Martins, Maseratis, Ferraris, Bentleys, Hummers, Porches and top-of-the-range BMWs.

Ms Meyler told the Sunday Business Post that a number of motorists resisted attempts to seize their cars.

“The gardaí have been called in to assist with seizures. There has been a number of incidents where threats have been made. People can become very attached to their cars - especially these types of cars.”

Under the scam, motorists avoid paying 21% VAT by exploiting a rule in the law which exempts people from paying tax if an imported car has more than 6,000 kilometres on the clock. Motorists dodge the tax by importing the car from the North or Britain, drive the 6,000km in the Republic and then declare it to customs as a newly acquired “old car”.

Drivers also cut their vehicle registration tax (VRT), which is charged at 30% of the selling price on the open market.

Motorists caught have been given bills ranging from €30,000 to €150,000 for the VAT and VRT owed, as well as penalties.

The tax dodge, known as ‘ageing’, emerged following an investigation in Dublin Port, called Operation April, last spring.

Operation Viking brought together tax and customs specialists within the Dublin region.

The unit is also investigating at least six garage owners, some of whom are suspected of facilitating the importation and sale of new cars on which VAT has not been paid.

“The operation has identified abuse by State residents but also by garages and car dealers operating here,” said Ms Meyler.

A Revenue spokesperson yesterday said similar operations were likely in other areas outside Dublin, but said they would be based on local conditions.

Revenue has a separate inquiry underway into tax evasion and VAT fraud in the motor industry in the south-west of the country.

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