Police Swoop on €645m Cannabis Investment Fraud Gang

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European police have made nine arrests and seized millions of euros in a bid to crack a notorious investment fraud scheme known as “JuicyFields.”

The pan-regional action day took place on April 11 and followed painstaking digital detective work across Germany, Spain, France, the UK and other countries, according to Europol.

Over 400 officers in 11 countries were involved in the operation, which led to 38 house searches and the seizure of €4.7m in bank accounts, €1.5m in cryptocurrencies, €106,000 in cash, several luxury vehicles, works of art, and large numbers of electronic devices and documents.

A Russian national, one of the suspected ringleaders of the scheme, was traced to a property in the Dominican Republic where they were living.

Read more on investment fraud: Investment Fraud is Now Biggest Cybercrime Earner

JuicyFields operated as a classic Ponzi scheme between 2020 and July 2022, according to Europol. Promising high returns with little to no risk, the scammers simply used money from new investors to pay returns to earlier ones – creating the illusion of a profitable scheme.

Some 550,000 Europeans were snared in the scheme, lured by the promise of financial gains from investing in a non-existent cannabis cultivation operation.

They were targeted with social media ads touting “e-growing” investment opportunities linked to the purchase of cannabis plants being grown for medical purposes. Some paid in thousands or even tens of thousands of euros, Europol claimed.

The JuicyFields scheme was also unusual in that its ringleaders set up physical offices, employed staff and touted their wares at cannabis industry events, giving it the illusion of legitimacy.

Europol warned that losses to the scheme may be even higher than the €645m already reported.

Investment fraud was the highest earning cybercrime type last year, making criminals over $4.5bn, according to the FBI.

The suspects in this scheme are said to be Russian, Dutch, German, Italian, Latvian, Maltese, Polish, Jordanian, American and Venezuelan – although it’s not clear whether all have been apprehended.

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