Royal Automotive's showroom in Woodlands Close.Photo credit: The Straits Times, Alphonsus Chern
A parallel car importer in Woodlands Close seems to have closed down, leaving at least 13 buyers in the lurch.
Customers of Royal Automotive told The Straits Times last week that they are owed about $600,000 and have been unable to reach the company's director or staff in the past two months.
The company has vacated its showroom, its Facebook page has also been taken down and website sgCarMart lists it as "not in operation".
The Straits Times was also unable to contact Mr Syed Khairil, the company's director.
Buyers said they placed orders with Royal Automotive from as early as last May, and made deposits and payments of up to $100,000 but never got their cars.
Other buyers said they were only able to successfully collect their vehicles after they forked out more for the certificate of entitlement and additional registration fee.
The company allegedly told them it was in financial difficulty and would pay them back these amounts later. These customers are each owed between $20,000 and $60,000.
Royal Automotive made the headlines in November last year, when its former sales representative, Chua Peng Jun, 23, was charged in court with misappropriating $414,564.
Mr Syed Khairil told the media then that it would try its best to fulfil all its orders.
However, Royal Automotive sent a text message to some buyers earlier this month, informing them that the firm had a "total lost of its liquidity and assets" due to Chua's case. Besides apologising, the firm said: "There is nothing that we can do for any one (sic) of the customers.
"Buyers said they were attracted by Royal Automotive's prices, which were up to $10,000 cheaper than other dealers.
Ms C.H. Tan, 48, a customer relations officer, ordered a Toyota Sienta in October and placed a $10,000 deposit for it. In the same month, the firm asked for another $76,888, claiming that the car would be delivered by the year end.
After Chua was charged, Ms Tan said the delivery was postponed to March. But she never got the car. "We don't know what to do next. It's our hard-earned money," she said.
Attempts by three buyers to recover their money via the Small Claims Tribunal were also unsuccessful.
Ms Kristen Teng, 31, an administrative manager, said that Mr Syed did not turn up for the mediation last month. The registrar ordered the company to refund her deposit of $15,000 by March 15, but it did not do so.
A buyer who only wanted to be known as Ms Tay said she was given a cheque for $47,888 in November by the company but it bounced."A lawyer advised us to take a civil suit but said there was no guarantee of getting the money back," said the 33-year-old clerk.
At least 30 police reports have been made involving Royal Automotive, and the authorities said investigations are ongoing.Mr T.T. Lim, 30, a freelance programmer, said he was resigned to not getting his money back. He paid close to $100,000 for a Honda Vezel.
"Let this be an expensive lesson to other people to be wary of such companies," he added.
The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) also said it has received 29 complaints about the firm since July.
Case executive director Loy York Jiun advised buyers to do their homework on parallel importers by looking up reviews on online forums.