Roadside trees in front of numerous outlets of scandal-hit used car dealership chain Bigmotor Co. were found to have withered unnaturally, local authorities across Japan said Thursday as they began looking into the cases.
The revelations could be another blow to the company, which recently came under fire over allegations that it charged excessive repair fees by intentionally damaging cars and making fraudulent insurance claims.
There is emerging speculation that the company may have perceived the roadside trees as a detriment to their business, possibly by obstructing the visibility of the displayed used cars.
The issues were addressed in Bigmotor's press conference on Tuesday, where the topic of insurance fraud was discussed.
A senior official conceded that there were instances where chemical herbicides were used "carelessly" on weeds, subsequently affecting street trees, though the official emphasized that such practices should have ceased roughly a decade ago.
The company has also said it is confirming the facts.
Among municipalities involved, the Sapporo city government said Thursday it plans to conduct soil analysis after consulting with the police, with three trees in front of two Bigmotor shops found to be weakening.
In the spring, a tree in front of one of the two shops had to be cut down since it was dead and posed a risk of falling.
The Fukuoka prefectural government said it will consider filing a police complaint on charges of property damage if herbicide components are found in the soil.
The Gunma prefectural government has already filed a complaint regarding 17 trees that died in front of the dealership's store in the city of Ota.
Osaka's prefectural and city governments have decided to conduct soil surveys in four locations. Bigmotor's Higashisumiyoshi store had previously opposed attempts to replant trees in front of it in 2020 and 2021 after the existing ones had withered.
The Tokyo metropolitan government, meanwhile, began examining the conditions of greeneries near 16 dealership stores located along its roads, with Gov. Yuriko Koike saying soil surveys would be conducted depending on the findings.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has instructed all regional bureaus to investigate the condition of roadside trees around Bigmotor outlets on roads managed by the central government, according to government sources.