A $45m Ponzi scheme that unravelled after the sudden death in Auckland of its founder in February is now being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

In September the Herald broke news of the audacious fraud at East Wind - understood to be the largest Ponzi scheme uncovered in New Zealand since the David Ross affair in Wellington of a decade ago - that largely targeted Japanese nationals with unregistered immigration and financial advice.

This afternoon the Serious Fraud Office - which had received, but decided not to investigate, complaints about East Wind in 2014 - announced it was stepping in to formally look at the matter.

"The Serious Fraud Office has commenced a formal investigation into East Wind Company Ltd and its affiliated entities," a spokesman said.


The investigation has been initiated under part 2 of the Serious Fraud Office Act where "the Director has reasonable grounds to believe that an offence involving serious or complex fraud may have been committed".

After Tom Tanaka, also known as Masatomo Ashikaga, died in his Auckland apartment of complications from alcoholism, investors seeking updates on their finances found his office and bank accounts suddenly closed.

Liquidators Grant Thornton were appointed by investors in April, eventually taking over a network of seven companies run by Tanaka. Liquidators found "a number of inconsistencies" in accounts, and a large gap between what investors creditors were owed and assets held.

The most recent liquidators report, dated mid-December, lists creditors as being owed $44.6m, with only $1m recovered to date.

Liquidators have been, unsuccessfully to date, seeking to interview Tanaka's widow Sandy Tsai, who closed East Wind offices and bank accounts and sold assets abroad after discovering the body of her husband.