The Auto Co has disappeared from the empty lot in Penrose where it sold second-hand Japanese cars.
Director Masashi Umeoka has emerged with a financial connection to another car yard - Automart (2012) Ltd - which has now been suspended from trading on Trade Me.
The car yard was set up 10 minutes away from The Auto Co's premises and appeared to have no connection to Mr Umeoka. Then, last Friday, the business changed hands and links with Mr Umeoka emerged. Shareholder and managing director Tom Barrow transferred Automart's ownership to J-Auto NZ Ltd, a company owned by Mr Umeoka.
Mr Barrow said he no longer had any involvement in Automart.
Yesterday, as the ownership of Automart became clear, Trade Me suspended the car yard's ability to list cars. Security manager Jon Duffy said a letter had been received from lawyers acting for Mr Umeoka declaring a financial interest in Automart. Mr Duffy said: "There appears to be a financial link there we weren't aware of."
Ownership of Automart rested with Mr Umeoka's company for just 23 minutes.
It was then transferred to Martin Walton, owner of the nearby Penrose Compliance Centre - the company which does compliance checks for Automart, approving or declining the cars Mr Umeoka imports for sale in New Zealand. Mr Walton said he didn't want to comment about Mr Umeoka.
On his ownership of Automart, he said: "Plenty of dealers own compliance shops."
It's an arrangement confirmed by VTNZ's Brian Sara. The company is contracted by the NZTA to hire compliance staff who are placed inside businesses such as the Penrose Compliance Centre where they screen cars. He said there was no barrier to second-hand car dealers owning the compliance centres which screen the cars they are selling. The VTNZ staff working in the centres are independent and the quality of inspections is supported by VTNZ audits and checks by the NZ Transport Agency.
Mr Umeoka said The Auto Co aimed to lift standards in the car industry and sold better quality cars at better prices than competitors. He confirmed The Auto Co had a "spider" built to crawl Trade Me for details. He said there had been no connection to Trade Me since the shill bidding - in which he denied "daily involvement" - had been discovered.
"It's a major regret that that happened, especially because I think we were doing such good work and lifting the standards of the industry in New Zealand."