Police investigate real estate agent Christopher Michael Heaps' business Kiwi Bullion
A smooth-talking real estate agent who trades precious metals has skipped the country leaving a growing list of worried customers owed at least $100,000.
Police are investigating several fraud complaints about Christchurch business Kiwi Bullion. It is run by 28-year-old former Harcourts employee Christopher Michael Heaps, who is described by sources as a slick operator with the gift of the gab.
Heaps – a discharged bankrupt with drug and firearms convictions – flew to Vietnam on July 28.
He was due to appear in the Christchurch District Court last week on a charge of aggravated disqualified driving, but did not show.
The court issued a warrant for his arrest.
Detective Sergeant Ross Tarawhiti said police had received five fraud complaints, involving more than $100,000, about Kiwi Bullion since August 11.
The alleged victims, who live around New Zealand, handed over money or precious metals to the trader, but did not receive anything in return.
"People need to be cautious about dealing with this business until we can clarify what has gone on," Tarawhiti said.
"We're obviously wanting to talk to the owner, but he's left the country."
Kiwi Bullion has operated since at least 2011 and trades gold, silver and platinum.
Those who lodged complaints were reluctant to speak about their dealings with the internet-based business, but said they trusted Heaps because he worked for a reputable company.
"I think he belongs in prison," one woman said.
Heaps has convictions for cultivating cannabis, possession of methamphetamine and unlawful possession of firearms.
He was declared bankrupt in 2009, after another business he owned, Christopher Heaps Contracting Ltd, was removed from the Companies Office.
Heaps was registered as a licensed real estate agent in September 2010 and worked for Phoenix Real Estate Ltd – the Riccarton branch of Harcourts.
Franchise partner Bruce Lindsay said Heaps had not told the real estate business he was travelling overseas. Lindsay had been unable to contact him.
Lindsay said Heaps' contract with Harcourts had been terminated and the Real Estate Agents Authority (REAA) alerted.
He would never have employed Heaps if he had known about his history "to the extent I know about it now".
REAA vetted people when they applied for a licence.
"We could only take it on face value that the REAA had done all of its homework."
Lindsay said no-one raised concerns about Heaps while he worked for Harcourts. He was regarded as a good employee.
A source said Heaps had left his family in a "horrible mess".
Heaps could be "charming and affable", drove a BMW and wore nice suits.
"He presented the image of the up-and-coming young man around town with everything going for him," the source said.
Speaking from Vietnam, Heaps told Stuff he intended to pay everyone back.
"There's a lot more to it that everybody doesn't understand," he said.
Heaps did not know if he would return to New Zealand: "It depends on if all this can be sorted out, doesn't it."
He had taken Kiwi Bullion offline and did not know if he would continue selling precious metals.
He declined to answer further questions.
"I'll speak to the police and I won't talk to anyone else."
REAA chief executive Kevin Lampen-Smith said a person must be "fit and proper" to hold a licence.
"Unless the convictions relate to dishonesty offending, the presence of convictions by themselves are not a complete barrier to gaining a licence," Lampen-Smith said.
It was too early to say if Heaps would be stripped of his salesperson class of licence.