/

Japanese investors sue asset manager in U.S. court

Kyodo

Japanese investors filed a class-action lawsuit seeking damages from Las Vegas-based asset manager MRI International Inc. on July 5, according to U.S. court documents.

Attorneys for five Japanese investors filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Nevada on behalf of all who lost money in what the documents allege was a Ponzi scheme.

In April, the Japanese Securities and Exchange Surveillance Committee started an investigation into allegations that MRI International lied to investors and mishandled up to ¥130 billion in funds collected from about 8,700 clients.

The suit alleges securities and exchange violations, fraud, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and other improprieties by the asset manager.

Robert Cohen, a U.S. lawyer representing the investors, said the initial goal of the lawsuit is to identify what assets remain and freeze them.

To that end, the plaintiffs are asking the court for a temporary restraining order that would freeze MRI International’s assets, establish independent oversight of its business, and allow the lawyers to start looking into its finances.

The suit names MRI International President and Chief Executive Officer Edwin Yoshihiro Fujinaga, Tokyo representatives Junzo Suzuki and his son, Paul Suzuki, and the Las Vegas-based escrow company that MRI International told investors was safeguarding their funds.

A person who answered the phone at MRI International headquarters in Las Vegas on Monday said the corporation had no comment on the lawsuit at this time.

The five plaintiffs named in the suit had invested more than ¥700 million in total in MRI International. They initially received dividends but payments began to fall behind around 2012 and the investors were unable to redeem their investment money after that.

“I feel extremely embittered,” wrote plaintiff Mitsuaki Takita in a declaration filed with the court. “Whether or not I would be able to recover the investment monies from MRI is a large enough issue to impact how my entire life will turn out to be.”

MRI International, which began selling financial products in Japan in 1998, was deregistered in April as a fund management firm in Japan after the possible massive losses came to light.

On May 30, lawyers filed letters of criminal complaint with Japanese investigative authorities against the firm and Fujinaga.