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Food seller Kefir goes bust after attracting thousands of investors

A man reads a sign posted at the head office of Kefir Inc. in Tokyo on Sept. 3, 2018, regarding the bankruptcy of the Tokyo-based yogurt and other food product firm. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A Tokyo-based seller of yogurt, dried fruit and other food products went under Monday after attracting tens of thousands of investors who were promised future returns by paying to become "owners" of its products.

Kefir Inc. said the Tokyo District Court has accepted an application by the company and its three units to start bankruptcy proceedings. The four companies together have liabilities of 105.3 billion yen ($949 million), with 33,000 creditors.

The bankruptcy announcement came after the Consumer Affairs Agency warned last Friday of potential massive consumer damage by the Kefir group after receiving more than 1,400 consultations over its businesses over the past year.

Kefir, which started in 1992 as a yogurt seller, had expanded its business areas over the years to other food products such as maple syrup and dried persimmons. It had been involved in solar and biomass power generation and the development of ultra-lightweight vehicles in recent years, according to the company website.

It sold food products through a membership website and mail order and used a system under which a person is asked to pay to become an owner of its food-selling business with the promise of getting the money back with interest a few months later.

But many of its businesses have remained sluggish and a system glitch that has led to delays in payments has prompted many members to terminate contracts, leading to further deterioration of the businesses, the company said in a statement.

Lawyers have formed a group for those affected and revealed at a gathering on Sunday it is planning to file a criminal complaint against the Kefir group on suspicion of fraud or violation of the investment law.

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