Ponzi scammer dies owing up to $45 million

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More than 200 victims of a Ponzi scheme have come forward claiming to be owed up to $45 million, after its director died and the company collapsed.

Auckland businessman Tom Tanaka, also known as Masatomo Ashikaga, was the sole director and shareholder of the East Winds Group.

Tanaka had been claiming he could give investors 8 percent interest on their money.

Liquidators had been tracing the labyrinth of companies and bank accounts the money had been funnelled into.

Tanaka was presenting seminars in Japan and New Zealand and offering assistance with immigration to New Zealand.

"That's part of the process of attracting funds.

"The other one was the promise of better returns than one would normally get - the promise of investments into land in New Zealand, and also the promise of investments into profitable, well-run foreign exchange trading businesses."

Downes is sharing information with the police, who are also investigating, and about $1.2m had been recovered quickly from a New Zealand bank account.

They have been contacted by creditors, anxious that their money may have disappeared, he said.

The company liquidator, Tim Downes of Grant Thornton, told RNZ'sMorning Report that all the claimants were Japanese, although some had lived in New Zealand for a long time and the scheme had been running for at least seven years.

"I think part of the enticement was assistance with immigration into New Zealand under the business immigration scheme where a party needs to invest a certain amount of money in New Zealand," he said.

"They're very distressed about the situation and the fact that they're very concerned, and rightly so, that their monies are gone missing - we're talking about individual investments of over a million dollars New Zealand equivalent," he said.

"So they're frustrated in terms of the fact that they feel they've been duped and there's a lot of stress amongst them."

The matter appeared to have come to light only after Tanaka died in February.

"I guess that's the classic sort of situation of a Ponzi scheme. Eventually it just totally unravels, and then in this case when what appears to be the mastermind dies suddenly that's obviously the trigger point for such a collapse.

"Our primary job is to is to identify what money that might be still available for us to collect and return to those that are entitled to it."

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