An Indian national who lives in the U.S. is suing a New Jersey Mercedes-Benz dealership for $1.26 million after the dealer refused to sell him a brand new car on grounds that “they were afraid he would sell it to the Taliban,” according to news reports.
The Times Herald-Record reports that Surjeet Bassi, 50, went to Prestige Motors in New Jersey to replace his Mercedes ML350 SUV with a newer model and chose the larger and more expensive GL550.
Bassi told the paper that after he negotiated the price with the sales staff, put a $1000 deposit on the car and had his insurance update his policy, the sales manager called him into the office to tell him he could not buy the car. The buyer was told that he comes from a “high risk” area that buys cars and sells them to the Taliban.
That is when Bassi, who runs a medical transport company, told the manager that he has lived in the area for 30 years and that he has no relation to any terrorist organization, but the manager still refused to sell him the car.
A search by the Times Herald-Record of Bassi’s name on a federal database of those banned from exporting turned up nothing. Bassi said the manager did the same search of Bassi’s name, address and telephone and came up empty, too.
He said he was even willing to sign a waiver, as he had done before, promising not to export the car for three years.
“I said, ‘Give me the paper, I’ll sign it,’” Bassi said. “I had a Mercedes already, if I wanted to export it I would sell that one.” Prestige refused, Bassi said. He said the implication that he would sell or be associated with terrorists hurt him.
“Heartbroken,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you how bad I felt that day.”
The Mercedes GL, like other large luxury SUVs, are very popular with wealthy customers in the Middle East and China. Due to the limited inventory and high tariffs, many high-end customers in those areas will pay two or three times the sticker price for a black market car. Mercedes dealers in the U.S. sometimes take precautions to make sure their cars are not exported overseas.
Still, this case is beyond the pale. Bassi’s attorney Michael Sussman alleges the incident is part of a larger pattern of discrimination against immigrants. They have filed a suit against the dealership for “blatant racial discrimination” as well as refusing to extend credit under the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
In 2014, Prestige was investigated over allegations of kickbacks being paid to its dealership salesmen in connection to a broader national probe into the exporting of luxury vehicles to China. While several of the sales staff were fired, no formal charges were brought against the dealership.