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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 August, 2003, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Thai minister invests in 'lucky' licence

Cars in Thailand are taking over
Bangkok's streets are heavily congested
Thailand's millionaire transport minister has paid more than $95,000 for a "lucky" vehicle registration plate at an auction.

Suriya Jungrungreangkit paid 4m baht ($95,200) for the licence plate because, according to Thai superstition, it has one of the "luckiest numbers" - 9999.

He chose it as a gift for his son, out of 301 other specialist licence plates.

Thai culture regards the number nine as lucky because it also means "progress".

The three-day auction, conducted live and via the internet, was a fundraiser for the national department of transport under the ruling Thai Rak Thai party.

"I didn't mind because the money will go to charity," said Mr Suriya after completing the bidding.

"The atmosphere was so cheerful that I ended up paying more than I meant to for it."

Mr Suriya, quoted by the Bangkok Post, said auctioning such numbers would put an end to the bribery previously associated with obtaining them.

"If I sell it, I could get 4.5 million baht. It's better than investing in the stock market. But I definitely won't do that," he added.'

Car culture

A total of 200m baht ($4.76m) is expected to be raised from the auction, which ends on Thursday. The money is to be used as a road safety fund.

The Thai transport department's director-general, Piyapan Champasut, said the main aim was to make the sale of coveted registration plates "as transparent as possible".

Thailand is seeking to draw further revenue from vehicles in the country, under an amended vehicle act which took effect from 28 July.

The amended law ends lifetime driving licences and shortens licence validity to five years for drivers of private vehicles and for three years for drivers of public transport vehicles.

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