Since 2012, investment companies TelexFree, WishClub and Unetenet have conned over a million people all over the world – including 100,000 Spaniards – with their online scams.
The three firms enticed investors with annual returns of up to 265 percent, and thrived in the midst of the economic crisis.
Clients lost up to €50,000 in schemes that had been recommended to them by friends and relatives, or after attending American-style presentations filled with images of exotic travel destinations and luxury cars.
The firms enticed investors with annual returns of up to 265 percent, and thrived in the economic crisis
But the promise of easy money concealed Ponzi schemes of the type created by Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff up until his downfall in 2008.
EL PAÍS’s investigative team has exposed the way these pyramid schemes worked.
TelexFree: greed is the motto. In July 2012, Córdoba crooner Antonio Rivas acted as the Spanish ambassador for this Ponzi scheme based in Massachusetts. The company recruited 50,000 Spaniards with the promise of annual returns of over 200 percent. All the millionaire wannabes had to do was copy and paste classified ads for 10 minutes a day. This worldwide scam brought in €730 million and affected a million investors. Its tentacles extended rapidly across Brazil (240,000 victims) and Dominican Republic (150,000). The fraud was exposed when the FBI arrived at TelexFree’s tiny headquarters in the spring of 2014 and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) broke up the massive pyramid scheme.
WishClub: Rogério’s empire. Twentysomething Brazilian Rogério Alvés da Silva was the friendly Spain representative for WishClub, a multilevel pyramid scheme that promised hefty earnings for watching internet ads and distributing a magazine. The firm made its public presentation in Madrid in June 2014. Alvés had left his native country several months earlier after prosecutors in Minas Gerais state shut down his company BlackDever, which had attracted €24 million in investments, on charges of being a pyramid scheme. Following an investigation by EL PAÍS, Spain’s National Police accused WishClub of alleged fraud. From its modern offices in Alcobendas – which have since been shut down – the company attracted 70,000 investors from 52 countries. Part of the company still operates through a separate brand called BNG International.
Unetenet: the online currency scam. The unete, styled as a digital currency, attracted 22,000 investors from a dozen countries. Valencia-born José Manuel Ramírez Marco managed to extract €50 million from small investors without oversight from governments or central banks. His system sold itself as an alternative to financial capitalism. In 2009 the CNMV national securities watchdog described Dextraplus, the firm that operated the currency for Ramírez System World Investment, as a financial scam. Ramírez also made investments in Panama in partnership with Germán Cardona Soler, who became known as the Valencian Madoff after he organized a pyramid scheme of his own that took €300 million from 100,000 investors.
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