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    All that glitters

    Speaking of ways Japanese consumers get scammed when looking for ways to invest, an operation called the L&G Group has been in the news all week. These companies usually pretend to market the sort of stuff you see hawked on infomercials–health drinks, odd undergarments, wonder pillows, things like that. L&G (the initials appear to stand for “Ladies and Gentlemen“) had its own “research center” that managed to attract some big-name lecturers, giving it the appearance of a reputable going concern. Apparently not, though. Since it’s a tawdry story, let’s look to the Mainichi for the full effect:

    Police on Wednesday raided the home of the chairman of the troubled L&G group and related facilities in Tokyo amid growing suspicion that the group had illegally solicited consumers to invest in its bedding goods sales business.

    The latest move came after the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan received a growing number of complaints from L&G investors about its failure to pay dividends or refund their invested funds. Investigators suspect that the group violated the Investment Deposit and Interest Rate Law.

    L&G started paying its investors “dividends” in the form of gift certificates to outlets for its own goods–essentially a step up from Monopoly money.

    This is not the first case of this sort of thing. Five years ago, Asia was riveted by the implosion of Genta Ogami’s G.O. Group, which (of course) was supposedly marketing health teas. Time Asia ran an extensive story:

    An estimated 90,000 individuals in Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia became G.O. “members,” investing in the firm’s schemes based on promises they could double or triple their savings. Until his operation unraveled earlier this year, Ogami, 39, had collected a total of $400 million, according to former G.O. Group executives, which he used to finance a lavish lifestyle, expand overseas and buy the offshore bank in the Philippines. He even financed his own action movie, Blades of the Sun, featuring himself in the starring role playing opposite a Filipina starlet.

    What’s fascinating is that Ogami’s phoniness was recognized not by middle-class Japanese investors but by poor Filipino savings account holders. He bought a bank in the Philippines to begin using as his private slush fund, essentially. And then:

    Ogami’s hilarious bumblings over the following months bring to mind Dr. Evil in an Austin Powers sequel–hilarious, that is, if not for the fact that they torpedoed a bank serving 18,000 poor Filipinos. G.O. Group had raised the cash to buy Unitrust by selling unregistered bonds in Japan. He loaned the proceeds to dummy local owners to make the purchase, says Inoue, in order to sidestep Philippine laws prohibiting majority foreign ownership of banks. Ogami announced his September 2001 takeover by posting his face on billboards around Manila and running a two-page newspaper ad offering jobs at three times the going salaries. He ordered Citibank pamphlets photocopied, its logo replaced with that of the new “Bank of Ogami.” He demanded fat personal loans, says Inoue, threw parties on the bank’s dime, and had Genta Ogami figurines created as gifts for customers.

    Instead of inspiring confidence, his behavior caused a bank run. Startled depositors yanked their accounts, and Philippine staffers–not inclined to swallow the weird, cultish rituals Ogami’s officers tried to impose–quit in droves. Unitrust was forced to close its doors this January. With the bank in receivership, thousands of remaining depositors are unable to access their funds.

    Ogami was sentenced to eighteen years.

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