Former East Wind manager facing SFO charges over alleged Ponzi scheme loses name suppression

A former manager at a financial services and immigration support company can now be named as the worker facing charges over an alleged multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

Name suppression lapsed for Yuko Hanyu, a former East Wind Company senior employee charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) with theft by a person in a special relationship and six representative charges of false accounting.

She denies the allegations.

East Wind Company was part of the East Wind Group, which marketed itself as offering financial services and immigration support to New Zealand’s Japanese community.

The group collapsed in February 2019 and was placed into liquidation, following the death of director Masatomo Ashikaga, who was also known as Tom Tanaka.

The 60-year-old had operated the company since 1996, mostly catering to wealthy Japanese-speaking nationals looking to gain New Zealand residency through investments.

Neither he nor his firm was registered as an immigration adviser or financial services provider.

After 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 who took over the network of seven companies run by Ashikaga found “a number of inconsistencies” in the accounts and a large gap between what investors creditors were owed and assets held.

More than 200 creditors, who were largely investors, claimed to be owed about $45 million.

In a statement, the SFO said it alleges the financial products offered by East Wind Company — the Group Term Deposit, Waterloo Fund, and Restaurant Fund — operated as Ponzi schemes, involving more than $26m of customer investments.

Hanyu was the manager of the company’s finance department from 2004 to December 2017.

Hanyu has pleaded not guilty to all her charges and is due to appear in the Auckland District Court again next month.

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