Police on Friday searched the headquarters of used car dealer Bigmotor Co. in Tokyo on suspicion of property destruction, investigative sources said after roadside trees near its dealership outlets were found to have withered unnaturally.
The search is another blow to the company's reputation, already battered by a recently revealed scandal over insurance fraud. As part of efforts to turn around the business, Bigmotor has closed some outlets and scrapped plans to open new stores. It is also considering selling itself out to potential sponsors, industry sources said.
Soil inspections at its stores carried out by local governments detected traces of herbicide, and police are investigating whether the company's headquarters were instructing the stores to carry out the damage, the investigative sources said.
The search came amid speculation that the scandal-hit company was intentionally damaging trees near its stores so that the cars on display at its outlets were more visible to passers-by.
It is thought to be the first time police have searched the headquarters of the used car dealership and repair chain, which came under fire after it was found to have charged excessive repair fees by intentionally damaging cars and making fraudulent insurance claims.
In an attempt to take responsibility for the scandal, Bigmotor's president announced his resignation in July.
"It is true that (the headquarters) have been searched. We will fully cooperate with the investigation," a company official said.
The latest move came after police searched nine outlets in Tokyo and three outlets in neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture earlier this month.
In Kanagawa, the Kawasaki city government said last month that a senior Bigmotor official revealed during its investigation that an outlet in the city had removed nearby trees following the instructions of the headquarters.
The company's sales have dropped significantly since the revelations. In a bid to cut costs, the company has decided to move its headquarters from Tokyo's upscale Roppongi district to inside one of its outlets in the capital's suburbs, it said.
Police investigations are also underway in multiple prefectures outside of the Tokyo metropolitan area, following reports of damage to trees in other municipalities.