June 25, 2024

Image by Alissa De Leva from Pixabay

Tista’ taqra bil-

A collection of individuals from Malta are among the suspects implicated in a global Ponzi scheme, falsely promoting profits via the sale of medical cannabis. Spanning from early 2020 to July 2022, the scheme impacted a total of 550,000 participants worldwide, with 186,000 transferring funds, and the majority being European. The operation fraudulently amassed an estimated €645 million.

This fraudulent activity revolved around a platform known as Juicyfields, touted as a connector between investors and medicinal cannabis vendors. Both national and European authorities have taken part in the probe into this intricate scam.

In addition to Maltese citizens, suspects include those from Russia, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Jordan, the United States, and Venezuela.

The dishonesty was a form of investment scam, referred to as a Ponzi scheme, where swindlers promise large returns with minimal risk. In contrast to a legitimate business venture, the schemers merely provide paybacks to initial investors, creating a façade of a flourishing business. Prompted by these swift returns, investors are compelled to invest more. When new investors dwindle, the system inevitably crumbles.

With JuicyFields, investors were prompted to invest a minimum of €50 to connect with medicinal cannabis producers. The cannabis would then be sold to authorised retailers. Despite promising 100% returns or higher, the company did not divulge details on how they would accomplish or guarantee such a feat.

The organisation gave an air of legitimacy via physical locations, staff, and representation at cannabis events, on top of their web presence.

Suddenly, in July 2022, company operations ceased. The CEO, alongside several staff members, disappeared. With social media platforms and investor platforms taken offline, and company email accounts erased, investors were left in limbo.

Following this shutdown, multiple legal cases erupted, culminating in investigations by national and European authorities. In Germany, France, and Spain, over 4,500 victims filed formal complaints. The Malta Police Force, in collaboration with Europol, Eurojust, and national authorities, partook in the probe.

The investigation resulted in the freezing or seizing of €4,700,000 in banking, €1,515,000 in cryptocurrencies, €106,000 in cash, and €2,600,000 in real estate assets. Several luxury vehicles, valuable art pieces, and electronic devices were also confiscated for scrutiny.

Investigators estimate the total damages from this scheme to be a shocking €645 million.

A Russian individual, believed to be a primary orchestrator, was located in the Dominican Republic. Dominican officials, assisted by Spanish investigators, searched his residence for evidence.

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