Japan regulator probes U.S. asset manager over missing funds - source

Japan's securities watchdog is investigating a U.S.-based investment company on suspicion that it falsified performance reports and could not account for the bulk of its $1.4 billion in disclosed funds, a source with knowledge of the probe said.

The Securities Exchange and Surveillance Commission (SESC) will recommend penalties against Las Vegas-based MRI International Inc as early as Friday, the source said. That would be followed by an order form its parent agency, the Financial Services Agency, to freeze the asset manager's assets, the source said.

No one at MRI could be reached for comment. At a press conference earlier on Friday, Finance Minister Taro Aso said he was aware of media reports about the MRI investigation but could not comment further.

Japan has tightened regulatory checks of asset managers after a scandal over a cover-up of losses by Tokyo-based money manager AIJ Investment Advisors last year that involved $1.3 billion of pension fund money.

According to its website, MRI International had collected 136.5 billion yen ($1.4 billion) from about 8,700 Japanese clients.

MRI advertised annual returns of 6 to 8.5 percent by investing in products collecting on medical claims in the United States.

(Reporting by Noriyuki Hirata; Writing by Nathan Layne; Editing by Chris Gallagher)