The Serious Fraud Office has delivered an urgent briefing to its minister about the East Wind scandal, as angry Japanese investors urged authorities and liquidators to properly investigate.
Last week the Herald broke the news that financial and immigration firm East Wind had been described by its liquidator as a giant Ponzi scheme, with largely Japanese investors owed $45 million.
The company's sole director and shareholder, 60-year-old Auckland-based businessman Tom Tanaka, also known as Masatomo Ashikaga, died in February and liquidator Tim Downes of Grant Thornton, appointed in the wake of the sudden death, said he discovered its operations were a scam.
Three investors in East Wind spoke to the Herald this week through a translator to describe their feelings of loss and betrayal.
One Auckland investor said she had invested $80,000 with East Wind after finding the company's Japanese-language website in 2013. She now thought her purported investments were a sham: "My money was stolen," she said.
She said she had invested more in one of the company's purported foreign exchange funds in January, weeks before Tanaka's sudden death. She was not shedding any tears over his passing: "It served him right."
One 80-year-old retiree in Japan, who had lived in Christchurch for nearly two decades and still visits New Zealand annually in the southern hemisphere summer, said he was owed $225,310. He said was now "not feeling well" as a result of the collapse of East Wind.
A part-time worker based in Japan said he had more than $200,000 tied up with East Wind after making multiple investments since 2006. He had no doubt about the legitimacy of the company until his emails from March stopped being replied to.
"How could he do this to us? The smiles on Tom and his staff members weren't real? I am upset with that as well as the prospect of losing my money. I feel betrayed," he said.
Some investors had paid money into the accounts of an East Wind company registered in Japan, and urged liquidators and authorities to investigate internationally and request assistance from Japanese police.
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"He knew a lot about tax havens and offshore trading. He was very interested in weaving through the laws and finding holes in the rules," one said.
"In order to find the truth, I believe that the liquidators and authorities should expand their scope of investigation to offshore tax haven," said another.
A detailed complaint of fraud against East Wind and Tanaka was filed with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in 2014 , but after a year of "preliminary assessment" it was passed onto Immigration New Zealand (INZ).
INZ in turn said it had "looked into the matter at the time, assessed the information but declined to take any further action due to other operational priorities
Stuart Nash, minister responsible for the SFO, said he had been briefed about the matter on Friday, and was advised the office was now taking a second look at the matter "based on additional information".
"Decisions around SFO investigations must remain independent of government and I will allow the SFO's subsequent inquiry to take its course," Nash said.
Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway described the case and the 2015 referral to his department as an "operational matter," but had requested a briefing of his own.