Questions over the East Wind alleged Ponzi scam have extended to the family of the firm's late founder, as liquidators try to piece together where investors' $45 million vanished.
Auckland businessman Tom Tanaka, also known as Masatomo Ashikaga, died suddenly in February, triggering complaints from investors that would lead to liquidators being appointed and East Wind described as the largest Ponzi scheme in New Zealand since David Ross was jailed in 2013.
East Wind, an unlicensed immigration and financial advisory firm, targeted Japanese nationals wanting to emigrate or invest in New Zealand.
Liquidator Tim Downes of Grant Thornton said more than 200 creditors had emerged since his appointment in April, claiming to be owed $45m. His investigationswere leading him to look at properties owned by Tanaka's family.
Tanaka's body was discovered by his wife, Sandy Tsai - also known as Siu Tai Tsai - who is understood to have limited English and worked for a time as a real-estate agent.
Companies Office filings show Tsai was, until February last year, a 50 per cent shareholder in the group, and she has been a director of various group entities from 1996 until the end of 2016.
Downes said he was yet to meet with Tsai, having had several scheduled meetings cancelled in recent months, and she was proving "elusive".
"The wife is claiming she had nothing to do with the business. That doesn't coincide with what the Companies Office records, or the transfers records in terms of significant renumeration," he said.
Tsai could not be contacted by the Herald. She did not reply to letters or emails, and her listed residence in Glenfield appeared to have been abandoned for months.
That home, owned by Tanaka and Tsai, has a rateable value of $1.1m. Neighbours said Tanaka's Jaguar and Tsai's Mercedes had not been seen at the property for months. Shortly after Tanaka's death the home was discreetly listed for sale, with no signs or advertising.
Downes said these moves had not gone unnoticed: "We're aware it was on the market, and we followed up on that. We want to put a claim on it, for lack of a better word, to preserve our rights. When our interest in it became apparent, it came off the market."
Emails from Tanaka to investors translated for the Herald show that, as recently as last year, he was encouraging clients to reverse-mortgage their homes to raise capital to invest in his schemes.
Tanaka's financial web also extended outside New Zealand. , Clients were advised to avoid international bank transfer fees by paying money into a Japanese bank account in the name of Japan-registered subsidiary Support New Zealand.
According to Japanese company records, Support New Zealand director Sandy Tsai put the company into liquidation on February 22. That was one day after she discovered her recently estranged husband Tanaka's body on the bathroom floor of his rented Auckland apartment.
The liquidator appointed to that company was Miyuku Ashikaga, who appears to be Tsai and Tanaka's daughter, and its listed head office is a three-bedroom Tokyo apartment that, until it was sold in June, was owned by Tsai.
Downes said he was working to trace the proceeds of that sale to ensure investor funds were not used to buy the property in 2014.
"We're not just sitting back saying 'bad luck, that's disappeared'. We're doing all we can to follow that case and put a clamp on it, so if we're entitled to it we can get it," he said.
Police this week said they had referred investor complainants about East Wind to the Serious Fraud Office.
A spokesman for the SFO, whose office had declined to investigate on a complaint about East Wind in 2014, was unwilling to say whether a case was now live.
A spokesperson for the Japanese embassy in Wellington said they were yet to receive any requests for assistance from New Zealand authorities.