Police in Papua New Guinea are searching for scores of high-end cars that went missing after an international summit last year.

About 275 cars are still unaccounted for in the impoverished Pacific nation since it hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit in November.

Many residents denounced the country at the time for buying 40 expensive Maseratis to ferry around world leaders, cars which it later planned to sell. Although the Maseratis are now accounted for, other cars are not.

Police Superintendent Dennis Corcoran said he was hoping to pick up one of the missing cars, which somebody had tried to sell.

Mike Pence
Mike Pence was among the dignitaries at the summit (Michael Sohn/AP)

The thief had disappeared, he said. “The driver absconded. But we got the vehicle.”

Mr Corcoran would not elaborate much on the operation due to “delicate” sensitivities around his work.

Since the summit, soldiers and police have blockaded government buildings and stormed parliament in an ongoing pay dispute over Apec security work.

With so many pressing needs in the nation of seven million people, many were dismayed at the amount of money spent on the summit, hosting leaders that included US vice president Mike Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Chinese President state visit – Day Four
Xi Jinping (Oli Scarff/PA)

Mr Corcoran is heading a new police unit tasked with recovering all the state assets purchased for Apec in the three years leading up to the summit.

In a statement this week announcing the formation of the unit, he said he would address “the ongoing misuse and abuse of state assets that were bought using the people’s money”.

He said the goods had been purchased by government agencies and then “claimed by certain individuals through unlawful means”.

He asked people to return the cars and other assets immediately and for the public to provide information to help the police.

Officers also announced this week that they had arrested one Apec officer who had used his position to enter the Port Moresby wharf to pry open the fuel caps of parked Apec cars and siphon petrol from them.

Port Moresby, the capital, has been described by the World Bank as among the world’s most violent cities due to high unemployment and brazen criminal gangs known as “raskols”.

Basic medicines are scarce in Papua New Guinea and polio, eliminated from most countries, has returned.