Balwinder Sahni, a Dubai-based Indian property developer, was trending on social media on Tuesday after it emerged he had paid $9 million during a government auction for a coveted licence plate for one of his six Rolls-Royce cars.
Personalised licence plates are a huge hit with people with big bucks in the United Arab Emirates, and the “D5” plate that Sahni snagged at the October 8 auction for 33 million dirhams isn’t the first one in his bag.
Sahni spent $6.7 million (24.5 million dirhams) to buy the “O9” plate in another auction last year. Despite the fancy licence plates and his plans to acquire two more Rolls-Royce cars, Sahni told CNN in an interview that he’s a “simple man”.
“I always like to give myself a gift every year,” Sahni told CNNMoney. “When you work very hard, you need to present yourself something.”
He said his big purchase had brought him a lot of attention, making it difficult for him to go out in public without people stopping him and asking to take a photo. Some people though aren’t impressed and have accused Sahni of wasting his money.
“It’s hard, people giving comments without knowing the type of person I am,” Sahni said.
Though the $9 million spent by Sahni is one of the largest sums spent on a licence plate, it’s lower than the $14 million record set by an Abu Dhabi businessman in 2008.
Sahni also said he sees the license plate purchases as his contribution to public coffers since Dubai has no income tax. He believes the money will go to charity and improving the city’s infrastructure. “I believe in giving back,” he said. “This city has given me a lot.”
The demand for personalised licence plates has led to private companies trying to cash in on the fad. Abdulkerim Arsanov and his brother set up a website, numbers.ae, to link sellers with buyers. The biggest deal through the website was for a two-digit plate that sold for $735,000 (2.7 million dirhams).