TEN years ago, when Mohd Zaidi Hasan decided to venture into the business of transporting oil palm fruits in Felda Bukit Mendi near here, the 60-year-old bought two three-tonne lorries in a deal that seemed like a steal.
The middleman claimed that the lorries were on the verge of being repossessed by a bank, and Zaidi did not hesitate to pay RM40,000 for both vehicles.
He said he threw caution to the wind because he intended to use the second-hand lorries only within the plantation.
Ten years down the road, on March 7, things took an unpleasant turn when a group of policemen knocked on his house door during the wee hours.
They wanted to inspect the vehicles and told him that the lorries had been reported stolen.
Shocked and confused, the father-of-five soon realised that he was not alone as several of his friends, who also bought second-hand lorries from the same middleman, were detained after the chassis numbers of their vehicles were found to have been tampered with.
Zaidi admitted that his lackadaisical attitude had landed him in hot water as he should have been more alert when someone tried to sell him vehicles at a low price without documents.
“In fact, the person who introduced me to buy the lorries was an old friend, and since I badly needed the vehicles, I did not hesitate to pay the money.
“Many settlers also fell victim to the fraudster and bought the lorries, with some even having valid road tax.
“None of us knew that the lorries were stolen as the middleman only informed us that they were lori lari dari finance (repossessed lorries).”
He said the police then took statements from him and other “unsuspecting buyers”, which included how their deals took place.
Zaidi, who recently bought a second-hand lorry from a used vehicle dealer here, said the settlers were angry after learning that they had fallen victim to a syndicate, and were sweet-talked into buying stolen lorries for RM15,000 to RM25,000 each.
“None of us expected to land in trouble or end up earning a living with stolen vehicles.
“What we wanted were lorries to transport the fruits, and since we never drove the lorries out to the main road, we did not bother about documents.
“All the stolen lorries’ chassis numbers had been tampered with and when police identified some of them, they found them matching the vehicles reported stolen in other places,” he said on Wednesday.
Zalinah Johari, who bought two lorries in 2005 from a middleman for RM18,000 and RM16,000, said she was under immense stress following the raid.
The 50-year-old mother of four said the settlers regretted their action when the police raided their homes in March.
“I own a lorry (with genuine documents) and bought two more through a middleman, hoping to expand my business.
“The deal was simple... the middleman would bring the lorry and if the potential buyer is interested, he or she has to pay in cash,” she said.
Bukit Mendi Village Security and Development Committee chairman Dzulkarnain Abd Wahab said the incident was a wake-up call for people to deal only with genuine second-hand vehicle dealers.
He chastised the second- and third-generation Felda settlers, reminding them that they should have been aware of such incidents as some of them had jobs in government agencies.
He said these Felda settlers had created a bad track record for themselves by buying vehicles under dubious circumstances.