VIP diplomatic cars become heavy burdens for Vietnamese owners

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A traffic police officer in Ho Chi Minh City inspects a car seized last March for driving around with expired diplomatic license plates. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Cars with diplomatic license plates benefit from tax exemptions and traffic privileges, but the plates on hundreds of such cars have expired and the cars have become a burden to their users.

Such cars are being tracked down by the government and the owners thus cannot drive them around. The owners also say it is too expensive for them to "normalize" the cars and run them with ordinary license plates. Their only option is to sell the cars, but most people know about the problems, so they have to advertise the cars at heavily discounted prices, a Tuoi Tre report says.

License plates marked with the letters NG or NN abbreviations for foreign affairs or foreigners in Vietnamese, are typically registered by foreign embassies and consulates in Vietnam. Cops tend to leave them alone.

Official data shows that there are around 600 cars with diplomatic licenses that have expired in Vietnam, meaning their related diplomatic missions have ended. Most of these cars have changed hands several times and their original users have left the country.

A man only identified as N. is struggling with two cars with diplomatic licenses for which he had to pay nearly US$50,000 over and above the cars' prices.

He said he would have to pay nearly $300,000 in registration fees and various taxes including the special consumption tax of 85 percent of the car's original price, to normalize his Lamborghini, while a normal used one is sold for around $220,000.

"Driving diplomatic cars made me look like a VIP, but now it's like a misery having them. I cannot drive them, no one will buy them and it costs so much to return them," N. said.

Such owners say the most practical option is to sell the cars, so they accepted very low prices.

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A BMW made in 2008 was recently advertised for just US$43,000 on a website for classified ads.

A car dealer in the northern province of Quang Ninh said the prices are almost half of what such brands typically fetch in the market.

He said he is selling a Porsche Panamera made in 2011 for $78,000 and a Porsche Cayenne Turbo VIN, also from 2011, for $71,000.

Some owners are waiting in the hope that the government will reduce taxes on normalizing diplomatic cars after the June 10 deadline they had been given.

But an official from Ho Chi Minh City Customs Department said those missing the deadline will have to pay cash penalties besides the taxes.

Meanwhile, a source from the Ministry of Public Security said using cars with expired diplomatic license plates will be treated as using illegal, smuggled cars, and the vehicles will be seized.

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