An immigration adviser and finance broker have been jailed for defrauding a wealthy overseas investor of millions of dollars in an Auckland property development.
Jian Long and Wen Ting Zhang were sentenced today in the High Court at Auckland by Justice Christine Gordon, who handed the duo prison terms of two years and 10 months.
Both had in May pleaded guilty to several charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, obtaining by deception, using a forged document, false accounting, and dishonestly using a document.
Their victims were a wealthy man and his wife who had applied to move to New Zealand under the government’s investor immigration category. As part of the approval process to obtain permanent residence they decided to consider several real estate investment projects, including an investment property in Hobsonville.
The total sum of the fraud, the court heard, was $8 million but the investor was deceived into paying about $6m.
Long’s lawyer, Rowan Butler, said his 37-year-old client will now need to repair his life after he “lost his way and undid so much of what he legitimately set up”.
“He established a life here that many here would describe as successful as a new immigrant,” Butler told the court of Long, who arrived in New Zealand in 2007 and became a licensed immigration adviser with his own consultancy company.
Described now as “financially destitute”, Long, who admitted 23 total charges, also faces the prospect of deportation.
Zhang’s lawyer, Marc Corlett QC, said her offending was “strikingly uncharacteristic” and had shocked the 39-year-old broker’s husband. She pleaded guilty to a total of 26 charges.
Crown prosecutor Steven O’Connor said Long and Zhang could only have been motivated by greed.
Long told a pre-sentence report writer: “I needed to make money.”
The court heard, however, the two have endeavoured to repay the victims in full.
Justice Gordon, who granted discounts for guilty pleas, remorse and personal factors, said the offending was not opportunistic.
Court papers obtained by the Herald show the immigration consultant responsible for the investor’s application in New Zealand was Long.
The investor was told he could join an investment syndicate to purchase land for about $22m.
But it was a scam, utilising corporate structures, including a company established with Long as a director – Wow Development Limited – and legal advisers from 2015 to 2017.
The proposed investment property, on Clark Rd, Scott Point, Hobsonville was part of a series of lots which formed part of the residential development known as Hobson Green.
The investor was told he needed to invest certain sums of money to purchase the property, while Long and Zhang also told him others were contributing towards the investment.
In fact, they misrepresented the amounts required and no others were offering any funds.
The fraud, court documents show, included the use of a $10m loan agreement with forged signatures and numerous emails containing false invoices to help obtain the investor’s funds.
Phoney invoices for the development also purported to be from Auckland law firms Duthie Whyte and Amicus Law, geotechnical and environmental consultancy company Soil & Rock, property valuation firm Simon Head & Associates and Harrison Grierson, one of the country’s leading engineering and design consultancies.
The invoices included claims money was needed to deal with asbestos and a “final bill for dealing with contaminated soil”.
A forged Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) title document, was also used by Long and Zhang.
The investor has said in a victim impact statement he became suspicious about the arrangement and had his accountant examine the accounts, leading to the discovery of a multimillion-dollar shortfall.
The offending continued even after the investor confronted Long and Zhang with his suspicions, the court heard today.
The investor and his wife also came to New Zealand earlier than intended to engage lawyers and try and recover the loss. They also were forced to sell the land to repay the fraudulent loans taken out against the property.
In a statement written this year, he said the fraud had had a “significant financially impact on him” and he now has “a great distrust of the people around and I am always on alert”.
A third offender in the scheme, Peng Pian, has already been sentenced to eight months’ home detention last year after pleading guilty to three charges of obtaining by deception.
Pian, who had his own construction business, said he became involved because he thought it made “good business sense” but told a pre-sentence report writer he’d made a “big mistake” after becoming “greedy” and realising the extent of the fraud.
The 39-year-old’s offending involved a false representation that a $4.4m deposit was required for the property development and also claimed an “under the table payment” of $2m was required.
At Pian’s sentencing, the court heard he had received $630,000 from the wealthy investor as a result of the deception but repaid the money and $30,000 in lost interest before the involvement of the police and court.
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