A group of investors say New Zealand banks have blocked them from sending about $3 million to a US-based media company and are frustrated by a lack of explanation about why.
About 60 mostly Chinese New Zealanders protested outside the lower Queen St branch of the ANZ last week, with signs saying "we are not happy my money my choice".
The company they were trying to invest in - G-TV Media Group - is linked to exiled Chinese billionaire businessman Guo Wengui.
Last week the Wall St Journal reported the FBI was examining Guo and the money used to fund his media efforts in the United States, including his work with Steve Bannon, a former senior adviser to President Donald Trump.
However, a lawyer for Guo told the publication the FBI had not contacted Guo.
In a statement on his gnews website Guo said G-TV was a company that was regulated by US financial institutions and securities institutions and "everything was done in accordance with the US laws".
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One of the protesters, Tex Hill, said members of the group including himself had tried to invest in G-TV Media Group.
Hill said he had successfully sent more than US$100,000 via the BNZ but when he tried to send a smaller amount using his ANZ credit card, it was bounced back after three weeks.
"[The bank] were saying the vendor had issued a refund," said Hill, but when he got in contact with the company it said there had been no refund.
He said others who had tried to send money were told it couldn't be transferred because the company was involved with fraud.
"We tried to send money overseas but our money got held back by the bank and they haven't provided us with a satisfactory answer.
"After we sent money some of the clients haven't been notified for up to three weeks later - the bank was saying different things to different people. Some were saying it was a fraud suspect."
Hill believed the firm - G-TV Media Group - was a legitimate US company, owned by Saraca Media Group, incorporated in Delaware.
He said if it was fraudulent, customers should have been notified straight away but some people didn't find out there was a problem until three weeks later and others did not know what had happened to their money.
"It has disappeared somewhere in between. We want to know exactly what happened there and why this has happened. If this is not a fraud, why can't we send our money to wherever we want?"
Hill said the group had come together via social media, with about 34 signatures from people affected so far.
John Burr, another protester, said some Chinese New Zealand residents had decided they wanted to send money overseas to a corporation called Guo Media, which was also part of the Saraca Media Group.
He said it was run by a man called Miles Guo. Guo also goes by the name Guo Wengui.
Burr said there was a share offer which expired on May 29.
Altogether, those in the group had tried to transfer close to $3 million, he added.
Burr said his wife, who is Chinese, had been blocked when she tried to send money via the ANZ, and had instead asked him to send it via his bank, Westpac.
They managed to send US$3000 to the US although Westpac questioned the transaction.
"Westpac rang up and said it might be too late to get our money back."
He said he and his wife had been prepared to take the risk that it could be a fraud, and they believed in what Guo was trying to do.
Yesterday [Friday] Burr said it appeared the money had been frozen by the American bank it was sent through, but had since got to Guo. He and his wife were waiting to see if they had met the cut-off period to get shares or if the money would be sent back.
Asked if he knew about the FBI probe into Guo, Burr said he did not. He said he did not know if his wife had received any investment documents but said she expected to receive a good return on the shares.
An ANZ spokesman said customers had raised concerns about the situation via the Banking Ombudsman.
"We're managing their concerns through that process."
He would not give more details about the reasons for the transactions being blocked, but said a letter had been sent to affected customers last week.
The Herald understands the complaint to the Ombudsman involves more than one bank.
A Westpac spokesman said it had recently communicated concerns to a small number of customers about an organisation they had intended to send money to in the United States.
"To protect customers' financial interests, we have asked them to provide documentation that relates to these payments so we can highlight any risks to them.
"We are not aware of any situations in which funds were taken from a customer's account but did not reach their destination."
Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden said it was aware of the concerns from banking customers but could not comment on the specific case.
"Banks are usually obliged to follow their customers' instructions for the use of their funds but there are some exceptions to this – for example, where the bank's terms and conditions allow the bank to refuse an instruction or the law prevents the bank from making the payment.
"Where a bank is unwilling or unable to make a payment, we would expect the bank to explain the reasons why to the customer (unless there is a good reason not to provide an explanation – for example, the law prevents this)."
Last week the Wall St Journal reported that the FBI was examining exiled Chinese businessman Guo and the money used to fund his media efforts in the United States, including his work with Bannon, citing people familiar with the matter.
The paper reported that FBI agents had asked people who know both men for information on Guo's activities, including the source of funds of a media company linked to him.
It said the probe had been underway for more than six months.
But the reason for the FBI's interests could not be determined. A lawyer for Guo told the publication its client had not been contacted by the FBI.
Guo is a former property tycoon in China who in 2014 fled the country where he is accused of bribery, fraud, money laundering, kidnapping and rape - allegations he has denied. He has applied for asylum in the US, according to the Wall St Journal report.
It said Guo had upset Beijing with online videos and social-media posts alleging corrupt links between China's political and corporate elites.
G-TV Media Group was added to the investment caution list of the British Columbia Securities Commission - a Canadian provincial investment regulator - on May 29.
In a statement on its website it said: "We recently became aware of British Columbia residents investing in shares of GTV Media Group Inc. (subsidiary of Saraca Media Group Inc.)
"GTV and Saraca Media Group are not registered to sell securities in BC and have not filed a prospectus with the British Columbia Securities Commission.
"We urge BC residents to exercise caution when dealing with companies that are not registered to issue shares."
A spokesman for New Zealand investment regulator the Financial Markets Authority said: "The FMA advises New Zealanders to take care when considering investing in overseas businesses that are not regulated in New Zealand, as investors will likely have limited protections."
In a video on his gnews.org website on July 8, Guo said many investors had received their shares already on July 7.
He urged those who had not yet received their shares to keep in contact with the lawyers of its investment committee as well as the company that was issuing the stock.
"When they email you or message you via WhatsApp, please respond. Be sure to respond. If you didn't receive your stocks please reply in WhatsApp, alright?"
Guo said some may not have responded to the messages and they needed to as "things need to go through the lawyers, not just us."
"The lawyers have to review everything, every share and every penny need to be accounted for."
He urged people to have patience and said it was a serious process in the US and the process needed to be done in a "meticulous manner".
The Herald has also sought comment via a lawyer linked to Guo.