Colombia seeks arrests in pyramid scheme

By: AP
By: AP

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Colombia asked Panama on Wednesday to arrest the leader of a company that allegedly ran a money laundering and pyramid scheme that caused a national panic over hundreds of millions of dollars in lost investments.

Attorney General Mario Iguaran said evidence against the DMG company and its principal shareholder David Murcia Guzman would show that it was a front for money-laundering. Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe has cited evidence that drug traffickers used the company to give their profits the appearance of legality.

DMG denied the allegations and said its "business model is not consistent with a pyramid scheme."

"David Murcia and DMG have always been characterized by their respect for the law," it said in a statement published Wednesday in the Panamanian daily newspaper La Estrella.

Murcia and his wife, mother, and brother-in-law were among seven people being sought, said Gladys Sanchez, a prosecutor who leads an anti-money laundering unit. Two company officials were captured Wednesday morning in Bogota and face charges including money laundering and bribery.

The government seized control of DMG and another company allegedly involved in pyramid schemes, Proyecciones DRFE, whose collapse led to looting, rioting and two deaths.

Pyramid schemes can offer dramatically high returns by using later investors' cash to pay off those who invest first. But they collapse when the flow of incoming money is not enough to pay the growing pool of investors.

Sanchez told The Associated Press that part of the investigation is related to $3.2 million in Colombian currency that police confiscated from a woman named Nidia Rosero in August 2007. Rosero told authorities at the time that the money belonged to Murcia and his DMG company.

The spokesman for Panama's national police, Eduardo Lin Yuen, told the Associated Press that he had received the Colombia's request to capture Murcia, and that authorities are on his trail.

"I suggest Mr. Murcia turn himself in," said Panama's attorney general, Ana Matilde Gomez.

Colombia wants Murcia extradited, but Gomez said he also could be prosecuted in Panama if he was involved in irregular financial dealings there.

Murcia first entered Panama in November 2005, and most recently on Oct. 21 with a one-month tourist visa, Panamanian immigration authorities said.

DMG's lawyer, Abelardo de la Espriella said Murcia is ready to return to Colombia if required.

Venezuela's consumer protection agency, meanwhile, closed a DMG office in Caracas on Tuesday. Agency chief Eduardo Saman told state television the company had been operating illegally.

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