Investors fear losses of €20m in 'Ponzi scheme'
INVESTORS fear they have been hoodwinked out of millions of euro in a suspected scam, which is now the subject of an international police investigation.
The seemingly legitimate scheme, which was started in Co Donegal more than two years ago, involved people investing substantial sums of money for large returns over a short period of time.
But hundreds of people have been left out of pocket to the tune of up to €20m, and the businessman who ran the scheme has left the country.
Investors now fear they may have fallen victim to a Ponzi scheme, a fraudulent operation in which the money is never invested, meaning no real profit is made.
In reality, the returns that may be paid are part of the investors own money -- or money from other investors.
In a Ponzi scheme, new investors are enticed by offering abnormally high returns.
The scheme was started in Donegal about two years ago, by a foreign businessman based in the county.
He purported to invest cash in liquidated stock such as airplane seats and designer clothing which were bought and sold for profit.
An estimated 240 investors, some investing their life savings, others securing bank loans to buy into the scheme, are believed to have handed over sums ranging from €20,000 to €1m-plus.
Some people have received some money back but most are now fearing the worst.
The scheme is now the subject of investigation by the Criminal Assets Burueau and the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation (GBFI).
The UK's Financial Services Authority has also frozen assets and accounts worth £6.8m (€8m) and initiated legal proceedings preventing the businessman behind the scheme from continuing to operate.
It is estimated that as much as €17.5m in cash has gone missing from accounts in the Republic.
Most of the investors are from Co Donegal but there are others from Sligo and Leitrim as well as a number from Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry.
One American woman, who runs a restaurant in Letterkenny, revealed how she invested the €77,500 inheritance she received from her grandmother in the scheme.
"It all seemed completely above board. He was very reassuring and told me there was no question I would make money from my investment," said Alison Carter.
However a few months later she asked for €27,000 of her cash back to expand her restaurant, Cafe Magnolia, and eventually got it back, but is still waiting for the balance.
She has since contacted the gardai in Letterkenny who have requested she provide them with various financial documentation.
"I paid capital gains taxes on all the money I invested so I have nothing to hide.
"Gardai are aware of it and are investigating the matter," she said.
A garda source confirmed a small number of people has so far made official complaints about the man at the centre of the alleged scam.
He also confirmed the GBFI is carrying out an investigation into those complaints.