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CRIME

Cannabis investment platform hit with Ponzi scheme lawsuit in Spain

Nearly 1,200 investors have filed a class-action lawsuit in Spain against a medicinal cannabis investment platform operating worldwide, accusing it of fraud, embezzlement and money laundering, their lawyers have announced.

SPAIN-CANNABIS-LAWSUIT
The lawsuit accuses JuicyFields of operating like a Ponzi scheme, in which early investors are paid out by receipts from later investors.(Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

JuicyFields, which is based in the Netherlands, promised high returns to invest online in medicinal cannabis plants, said Norberto Martinez from the Martinez-Blanco law firm that filed the case.

A spokesman with Spain’s National Court, the country’s top criminal court, confirmed the lawsuit was filed over the weekend.

This is believed to be the first class-action lawsuit against JuicyFields, which according to media investigations allegedly scammed investors around the world.

Established in 2020, JuicyFields offered investors the chance to participate in the cultivation, harvesting and sale of cannabis plants, promising returns of between 29 percent and 66 percent, according to the law firm.

But JuicyFields suddenly stopped operations in mid-July, froze cash withdrawals and vanished from the internet, according to several investors.

The lawsuit accuses JuicyFields of operating like a Ponzi scheme, in which early investors are paid out by receipts from later investors.

It estimates that there are nearly 4,500 victims in Spain alone, who each lost an average of €6,500 ($6,645). Some individuals lost as much as €200,000.

The minimum investment was €50, and the money could be deposited and withdrawn via bank transfer or cryptocurrencies.

The overall scale of JuicyFields’ alleged fraud is unclear. A woman has already filed a police complaint against the firm in France’s northern city of Tourcoing.

The 58-year-old woman, who did not want to be identified, said she started by investing €50 in December 2021 and in just three and a half months she earned a profit of €25.

“This gave me confidence so I immediately reinjected the money and I invested larger sums,” she told AFP, adding she had lost €3,600.

She is part of a group on mobile messaging service Telegram in France for people who want to take legal action against JuicyFields which has over 1,600 members.

A class-action lawsuit against JuicyFields is expected to be filed in a French court before the end of the year, according to Arnaud Delomel, a lawyer who represents hundreds of investors.

AFP was unable to contact JuicyFields for comment and the company has issued no official statement.

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TAX FRAUD

Spanish court orders Shakira to stand trial in tax fraud case

A Spanish court has ordered Colombian music superstar Shakira to stand trial in a tax fraud case at a date yet to be determined, court documents showed on Tuesday.

Spanish court orders Shakira to stand trial in tax fraud case

Prosecutors in Barcelona said in July they would seek a prison sentence of more than eight years against the singer and a fine of nearly €24 million ($24 million), after she rejected a plea deal over accusations of tax evasion.

They accuse the 45-year-old “Hips don’t Lie” songstress of defrauding the Spanish tax office of €14.5 million ($14.7 million) on income earned between 2012 and 2014.

Prosecutors say Shakira moved to Spain in 2011 when her relationship with FC Barcelona defender Gerard Pique became public but maintained official tax residency in the Bahamas until 2015.

The couple, who have two children, announced their separation in June. On September 19, a Barcelona court ordered the singer to stand trial for six tax crimes, according to a court ruling made public on Tuesday.

In an interview published in Elle magazine last week, Shakira said she was confident she had behaved correctly and did not owe the Spanish tax office anything.

“These accusations are false,” she said.

“While Gerard and I were dating, I was on a world tour. I spent more than 240 days outside Spain, so there was no way I qualified as a resident,” she added.

“The Spanish tax authorities saw that I was dating a Spanish citizen and started to salivate. It’s clear they wanted to go after that money no matter what.”

Shakira’s lawyers have said that until 2014 she earned most of her money from international tours, moved to Spain full time only in 2015 and has met all her tax obligations.

The singer says she has paid €17.2 million to Spanish tax authorities and has no outstanding debts.

She argues Spanish prosecutors are trying to claim money she earned during her international tour and from her participation on the show “The Voice”.

She was a judge on the show in the United States, when she says she was not yet resident in Spain.

A Barcelona court in May dismissed an appeal from the singer to drop the charges.

Shakira was named in one of the largest ever leaks of financial documents in October 2021, known as the “Pandora Papers”, among public figures linked to offshore assets.

With her mix of Latin and Arabic rhythms and rock influence, three-time Grammy winner Shakira scored major global hits with songs such as “Hips don’t Lie”, “Whenever, Wherever” and “Waka Waka”, the official song of the 2010 World Cup.

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