A New Zealand registered company is being accused of fleecing 200 American investors of US$40 million ($71.2 million).

The New Zealand Companies Office website lists First Capital Savings & Loan's registered office as a company ultimately owned by a Tauranga woman.

The Associated Press reports that a group of around 200 investors has filed a federal law suit in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, against First Capital Savings & Loan and its sole director and shareholder, Jeff Lowrance.

The investors had opened offshore foreign currency exchange accounts with hopes of 7 per cent monthly returns. They say Mr Lowrance and his company failed to make live market trades, transferred money from one client's account to another to keep up the appearance of earnings, and used proceeds for personal gain and other business ventures including an alternative newspaper Lowrance started called USA Tomorrow.

The investors' lawyer, Wanda Howey-Fox, told AP the scheme was "a small version" of a Bernard Madoff-style Ponzi scheme.

She said some investors opened accounts with US$10,000 while others put in as much as US$750,000. "Some people have mortgaged their houses to become involved in this scheme."

The lawsuit seeks interest, US$50 million from Mr Lowrance, US$50 million from his other business entities and US$150 million in punitive damages.

Mr Lowrance's address is listed on the Companies Office website as Panama City, but Ms Howey-Fox said it was believed he was living in a hotel in Houston, Texas.

First Capital Savings & Loan's registered contact is a company called Auckland Compliance, which has one director also with a Panama City address. That company is owned by an entity called Overseas Capital, which has a director in Panama. Overseas Capital is in turn owned by Auckland Bancshares, the sole director and shareholder of which is Tauranga woman Joan-Lesley Hansford-Jensen.

The Herald spoke to Mrs Hansford-Jensen's husband, Darryl Jensen, a Tauranga taxi company owner.

Mr Jensen said he was responsible for setting up the companies his wife was a director of. He was aware of First Capital Savings & Loan but could not say what it did. "It's all, I suppose, just structure."

He said the couple had a business partner in Auckland, and had nothing to do with the "nitty gritty" of the business. "We get paid a little bit of money for doing odd bits and pieces."

New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants director of tax Craig Macalister said he had seen "various guises" of entities marketing themselves to non-resident investors. He had received a number of inquiries from accountants recently about such companies. If the company was incorporated in New Zealand then it was subject to tax here. But if money coming in from investors was then being invested straight back out again there would be little taxable income.