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Sydney car dealerships raided by NSW Police, uncovering odometer tampering of used cars

Four Sydney car dealerships have been targeted in raids that uncovered evidence of illegal odometer tampering on 100 vehicles sold to NSW consumers.

The raids on Tuesday were the culmination of a joint investigation between NSW Fair Trading and NSW Police and focused on the alleged winding back of odometers in second-hand cars imported from Japan.

Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe said the raids had targeted four licensed dealerships and three licensed repairers.

“It’s very concerning. What is unique to this particular matter is that all the vehicles were imported from Japan…with no local records that allow verification of odometer readings.”

Dream Car City, on Parramatta Road in Haberfield, had its licence to operate suspended on the spot following the execution of the search warrant on Tuesday.

Three other dealerships, which were issued Notices to Show Cause as to why disciplinary action should not be taken, included Master Cars on Forge Street, Blacktown; Edward Lee Imports on Parramatta Road, Concord; and Prestige Auto Centre, also on Parramatta Road in Concord.

Those three dealerships can continue to trade.

Director of Prestige Auto Centre Dimitri Akhnegov said he was not worried about the allegations.

“I can’t really talk as Department of Fair Trading are still here, but we are not worried, they are doing their job.”

On its website, Prestige Auto Centre says it “specialises in the import and supply of high quality, Japanese vehicles for the Australian consumer.”

Calls to the other three dealers went unanswered.

Mr Stowe said the two-year investigation was sparked by a tip from a consumer, concerned about the wear and tear of a vehicle.

“For consumers odometer readings are an important way of determining the value of the motor vehicle. So when odometers are being wound back clearly it’s misleading consumers as to the wear and tear on that vehicle, so it’s a very, very serious offence.”

He added, the reason the tampering was limited to cars imported from Japan was likely because automatic deregistration applies to all vehicles after a specific timeframe from the year of manufacture.

“When we moved to digital odometers we had great expectations this sort of activity would be significantly reduced. Unfortunately we have individuals who are able to undertake this sort of activity,” Mr Stowe said.

While Tuesday’s raids uncovered four car dealerships, authorities warned that investigations were ongoing.

“It’s anticipated a number of persons will be prosecuted by the NSW Police and Fair Trading as a result of this investigation,” said Detective Superintendent Murray Chapman, NSW Police State Crime Command’s Property Crime Squad Commander.

“Tampering and winding back odometers is an offence under the Motor Dealers and Repairs Act, attracting fines of up to $22,000. If a person is caught attempting to sell a vehicle knowingly, that has had the odometer wound back, [that] is also a criminal offence,” he said.

“That’s fraud, and it carries up to 10 years jail.”

Last year the federal government announced plans to relax rules restricting Australian buyers from importing new cars from overseas, however Mr Stowe said he was not concerned new import laws would allow other cases of tampering to prosper.

“I don’t think this is something that would be targeted by that sort of scheme.”

He said any consumer that purchased a vehicle from an overseas business still has protection from Australian consumer law, however “if it’s a private purchase, you don’t have those protections”.

He said it was too early to say whether consumers who had purchased one of the 100 identified vehicles would get their money back, but Fair Trading would be working with them.

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