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MALTATODAY 24 July 2022

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2 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 24 JULY 2022 NEWS CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 The cannabis investment platform supposedly connect- ed micro-investors with small cannabis farmers, to fund crop cultivation that was then legiti- mately sold. Investors were told they could expect returns of up to 66% on their investment in just 90 days. The company's main tool was its online platform. Users could buy and sell plants, manage them in virtual greenhouses and have their money paid out. Those looking to invest in the company were allowed to de- posit up to €180,000 via bank transfer of crypto-investments, without needing to do any back- ground checks. The company billed itself as a supplier for the medical canna- bis industry, promising massive returns that doubled invest- ments almost immediately: for example, a 'juicy flash' invest- ment of €50 would return any- thing between €68 to €83 after a 108-day harvest; the 'juicy haze' paid out over €11,000 over five years, for a €2,000 investment. The allure of such lucrative re- turns was obvious – investors initially were paid out these high returns, convinced that Juicy Fields was a safe deal. The mystery for the thousands of Juicy Fields investors is who exactly the company's owners are, and where have the millions – possibly billions – invested gone? In July, users started noting a suspicious pattern of behaviour gaining speed – they reported being blocked from withdraw- ing funds, and the company's social media profiles disap- peared. One of its chief promot- ers, Daniel Gauci, was based in Malta, a cannabis 'evangelist' with a successful social media presence – he has now left the company. One swindled investor re- marks how matters changed from one day to the other: "We never had any issues; on the contrary, they were always effi- cient on their support lines, any problems that arose were dealt with immediately. The red flags came when we flagged a small issue on their support email and the reply 24 hours later was that the email address does not ex- ist." The victim, who spoke under condition of anonymity, ended up investing €50,000 in what is now being billed a Ponzi scheme. Another victim who spoke to MaltaToday said they started off investing €1,000, on rec- ommendation of someone who works in the Maltese finan- cial services industry. When he convinced his wife and son to invest, the family ended up pouring €108,000 into the scam. "We lost everything. My son's life insurance had just ended, and he had €30,000 in savings. He only ended using €5,000 – the rest have now been lost," he said. Another investor invested €70,000. "I thought it was a legit company since payments were being transferred to a European bank in Cyprus (ISX) and apart from that, all the top official people were very present on social media and on news arti- cles." Then when all hell broke lose in mid-July, investors started receiving emails that the em- ployees of Juicy Fields were on strike and that the CEO had re- signed. "I panicked and contact- ed Daniel Gauci on LinkedIn and he told me I shouldn't be alarmed but he also said that he cannot give me any further info as he had resigned two weeks prior," he said. Juicy Fields is neither a com- pany registered in Malta, nor licensed by the Malta Financial Services Authority. But Dan- iel Gauci, the company's chief business development officer, trades under his own personal company, Juicy Network. Mal- taToday is unable to ascertain whether the companies are re- lated. On LinkedIn, Gauci posted a letter saying he had no knowl- edge of the scam, believed to be perpetrated by Juicy Field's ul- timate beneficial owners, who are said to be Russian and Co- lombian. "Mr Gauci did not participate in or have knowledge of the facts in dispute. In fact, both personally and through its rep- resentatives, his collaboration and cooperation is offered to the competent authorities, to the extent that it can contribute with respect to the events that occurred, the authors and the rest of the circumstances are clarified," the letter reads. "Given the will to cooperate and provide as much informa- tion as may be relevant to re- solve the problems that concern so many people, we must high- light and insist in this petition as the intense harassment and threats that Mr. Gauci and his family is receiving so far. Thus, we have the professional assign- ment to carry out and exercise as many legal actions as are ap- propriate against all those peo- ple who promote or commit il- legal acts against our clients Mr. Gauci and his family, who have recently been subject of serious and intolerable threats when no implication or participation re- lates them to what happened." Contacted for a comment, Daniel Gauci did not answer. Victims who spoke to this newspaper said they have re- ported the case to the relevant authorities. Money on the move While uncertainty still looms around Juicy Fields, some us- ers have detected movements of tens of millions of euros in cryptocurrencies on the block- chain. A blockchain address associat- ed with Juicy Fields was record- ed carrying out deposits and withdrawals. On 14 July, one wallet held about $105 million. Juicy Fields is allegedly cur- rently carrying out a process called 'blending' or 'mixing', which consists of executing thousands of seemingly mean- ingless moves to make it impos- sible to keep track of the funds. Once they are spread across multiple wallets and mixed with other amounts, they are sent to multiple exchanges from where they would be withdrawn into fiat currencies. Are you an investor? GET IN TOUCH Up in smoke: Malta investors lose thousands in cannabis 'exit scam' A Ponzi scheme? Users in online forums speculate whether the Juicyfields case could become as big as the OneCoin $4 billion cryptocurren- cy scam. The dimensions of the fraud at Juicyfields are as yet unclear. A Spanish law firm representing small investors claims that more than €9 billion have flowed through the digital wallets – the crypto accounts of Juicyfields. What is apparent is that deposits from new Juicyfields customers seemed to have been used to pay out earlier investors, who also received bonuses if they could convince others to buy Juicy- field's virtual cannabis plants. Several versions of what happened are circulating on the In- ternet: The most widespread is that a group of Russians with a background in cryptocurrencies have orchestrated the scam. Other versions have parts of the management team forge signa- tures to empty the coffers. None of Juicyfield's former top-level executives have made a public appearance since the scandal broke. Juicyfields, which started in 2020 with an office in Berlin, changed its headquarters to the Netherlands and then Switzer- land in the course of this year, in a possible attempt to escape police investigations and inquiries by financial regulators. On 3 June 2022, German financial regulator BaFin prohibited Juicy Holdings B.V. from offering capital investments in the form of investment opportunities in JuicyFlash, JuicyMist, JuicyKush and JuicyHaze cannabis plants to the public due to a violation of the German Capital Investment Act. The prohibition was imposed because Juicy Holdings B.V. has not published a prospectus approved by BaFin for the public offer of such capital investments that contains the information required under the German Capital Investment Act. These offers to the public were made via the company's website. On LinkedIn, former Juicy Fields promoter Daniel Gauci posted a letter saying he had no knowl- edge of the scam

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