The Serious Fraud Office has laid 21 charges against five people involved with the collapsed South Canterbury Finance company.
The charges were filed yesterday in the Timaru District Court after a 14-month investigation.
SFO chief executive Adam Feeley said South Canterbury Finance was "one of the most significant of all the failed finance companies".
"The value of the fraud alleged to have been committed exceeds anything in the history of white-collar crime in New Zealand, and the time we have taken to complete this matter is a reflection of that scale," Mr Feeley said.
"The investigation has been one of the most resource-intensive and time-consuming in recent history."
South Canterbury Finance was placed into receivership on August 31 last year, owing about $1.8 billion.
But because of the company's participation in the Crown retail deposits scheme, 35,000 SCF investors were bailed out by the taxpayer to the tune of $1.7 billion
Mr Feeley said it was not appropriate to name the five accused people until they appeared in court.
He understood a hearing had been scheduled for January 19.
The charges relate to offences including theft by a person in a special relationship, obtaining by deception, false statementsby the promoter of a company and false accounting.
The total value of allegedly fraudulent transactions is about $1.7 billion.
The charges carry maximum penalties of seven to 10 years in jail.
The Financial Markets Authority said it supported the SFO's proceedings, and it was looking to take civil proceedings to recover some of the money paid to SCF investors under the guarantee scheme.
South Canterbury Finance was founded in 1926 and was developed into New Zealand's largest finance company by Timaru businessman Allan Hubbard.
Mr Hubbard died while being taken to hospital after a head-on car crash near Oamaru in September in which his wife, Jean, was also seriously injured.
The crash came more than a year after the Government put Mr Hubbard and his business interests under statutory management while investigating his company, Aorangi Securities.
Mr Hubbard faced 50 criminal charges laid by the SFO for his involvement with Aorangi, but these were dropped after his death.
In September, receivers said Mr Hubbard's death made little difference to the sale of his businesses.
South Canterbury Finance traded strongly in the South Island, but it was also a big Auckland lender and helped to create venues for the city's after-dark revellers.
It funded chunks of the city's hospitality industry, pouring money into Princes Wharf and Vulcan Lane venues.
But several of these investments turned sour, costing the company about $1.5 million.
- Additional reporting: Anne Gibson
* The value of fraud allegedly involved in the South Canterbury Finance case is $1.7 billion.
* This is 10 times the value of all fraud cases brought before the courts last year - which totalled $172 million.
* Former Datasouth director Gavin Bennett was accused last month of fraud worth $103 million involving a Ponzi-style scheme and false accounting.
* Former ASB Bank investment manager Stephen Versalko was jailed last year for stealing $18 million of customers' money.