Extent of apparent 'classic Ponzi' revealed
Published: 6 Sep 2012 13:00
One Irvinestown businessman pumped £116,000 into the County Donegal-based scheme, which offered returns of up to 40 per cent in just six weeks.
In fact it appears to have been a Ponzi, where the returns paid to investors are from their own money, or money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from any actual profit earned.
The full extent of the scheme operated by Frenchman Francois de Dietrich through his company, ETIC Solutions Ltd., has only now been made public.
Following a meeting of creditors in Monaghan at the end of July, PWC (Price Waterhouse Coppers), the official liquidators of ETIC Solutions, has revealed that 576 people invested almost 20 million euro in the scheme.
It also confirmed that it "found no evidence that the company performed any genuine business activity".
"Indications that 'profits', referred to in correspondence from the company and received by investors, were not genuine and were actually the capital other investors had invested," PWC stated.
In other words it appears to have been a classic Ponzi.
De Dietrich has insisted the business was legitimate.
Of the 576 people who invested in ETIC Solutions, only 389 have declared an interest in getting their money back.
PWC does not say how many of the investors were from Fermanagh but one high street bank has revealed that of the 20 of its customers who put money into ETIC Solutions, eight were from Fermanagh.
"And that is only the tip of the iceberg," according to one investigator.
"A lot of greedy businessmen around Fermanagh thought their golden goose had landed and they have lost an awful lot of money," he added.
PWC has spent 18 months trying to track down the missing millions. So far it has seized cash to the value of 7.6 million euro, or just over £6 million.
It estimates that this will result in investors getting an interim payment of 20p for every £1 they invested. They are due to receive the money from early next year.
The 187 investors who have not yet come forward will not get any money back.
De Dietrich enticed people to invest in his business, ETIC Solutions Limited, based at an office in Ballyboffey, with the promise they would make up to 40 per cent profit in the space of six weeks.
Those caught up in the scheme included a PSNI detective, gardai, accountants, solicitors, developers and members of the travelling community.
De Dietrich fled Ireland two years ago, when the authorities froze his accounts and shut down the scheme.
Since then investors have been waiting to get their money back.
Last January the businessman was sentenced to 18 months in jail for contempt at Belfast High Court, after he defied a court order to stop taking new deposits from investors.
When he did not turn up for the hearing a warrant was issued for his arrest.
His appeal against the sentence was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in January.
PWC liquidator Paul Rooney said: "In 2008, 2009, we had the perfect storm of an economic recession and a banking crisis. People were unsure where to put their money.
"Perhaps an opportunity of an investment, and an early investment, was taken and the implications and ramifications of that are now being felt, not just from a financial perspective, but from the human and indeed the families affected," Mr Rooney said.
Not everyone who invested in the scheme lost money - 81 people made a profit.
They cashed in before the scheme collapsed and shared just over £6 million.
Meanwhile, de Dietrich is still a wanted man on both sides of the Border.
The PSNI and gardai both want to question him about the case.