Like the plot of an improbable fintech thriller, cannabis e-investment conglomerate JuicyFields has imploded into an apparent Ponzi scheme of massive proportions, leaving tens of thousands of online investors wondering who is responsible for the biggest swindle in cannabis.
Swedish attorney and CEO of PRIO Startup Ltd., Lars Olofsson, places partial blame on international banking systems, because several transactions generated by the JuicyFields platform should have triggered institutional systems that detect suspicious activity.
Financial regulatory agencies in in Germany and Spain also issued warnings about the company weeks before JuicyFields’ collapse in mid-July, when investors accounts were frozen.
“Several companies, organizations and individuals have facilitated this. An operation like this could never operate in a vacuum. It needs all kinds of suppliers who directly or indirectly facilitated or looked the other way,” Olofsson told Investor Times last week.
Recent developments indicate that suspended Australian fintech company iSignthis (ISX) and its subsidiary ISX Financial EU may be implicated in the scandal. Olofsson confirmed that the Australian bank received funds from JuicyFields.
By the end of July, Olofsson had been contacted by more than 300 victims, with an average investment of €30,000 each. He is one of several European attorneys listed on the JuicyFields’ website as taking cases of victims.
The scope of the scam is potentially enormous.
Fortune.com noted that JuicyFields may be the largest “crypto scam” of 2022, with investors out $273 million in bitcoin alone, though others speculate the actual amount will be in the billions. In Spain, attorney Emilia Zaballos said that her firm has received more than 6,000 emails in regard to the case.
Class action suits are beginning to take shape, though getting to the bottom of the rabbit hole will be complicated. There are dramatic theories regarding who may own the company and if they have absconded with the funds, or if the accounts were drained by hackers.
A revolving door of C-suite players, shady operators behind the JuicyFields website and alleged Russian mob characters left behind a confusing breadcrumb trail of addresses and registrations, in Amsterdam, Switzerland, Zurich and elsewhere – all of which lead to nowhere and no one.
Former JuicyFields executives basically have disappeared. Luxemburg-based publication Delano reported: “Identifying the companies involved – which may well be fictitious – locating their directors and tracing the flow of money will be a long-term task.”
Of no reassurance to JuicyFields’ victims, Olofsson added that he believes Russian organized crime involvement may be a strong possibility, though he has no conclusive evidence supporting that assertion.
Industry insiders and pundits said that JuicyFields’ business model and marketing tactics were suspicious from the start. Some pointed out that industry media on the topic was sparse, but piecemeal posts on social media hinted that all might not be quite right at the investment platform.
That didn’t stop international investors from signing up for promises of rapid returns – more than 50% in little more than 12 weeks – on per-plant investments with the JuicyFields cannabis growers. Clients were allowed to deposit up to €180,000 per account without background checks typically required for such investments.
The company invested heavily in marketing, becoming a splashy presence at industry trade shows where they plied potential customers with open bars and attractive spokesmodels.
At the International Cannabis Business Conference, held in Barcelona in March, JuicyFields was a conspicuous show sponsor, with two logo-ed Lamborghinis parked at the entrance to the show and at VIP events hosted by the company. At that time, accounts were still being opened, and investors were encouraged to sign up friends for financial rewards.
JuicyFields’ Timeline of Decline
By early June, the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority, known as BaFin, issued a ban on investment in the company because it failed to file a required prospectus. Little more than a month later, BaFin levied a €1 million fine against the company for failing to withdraw cannabis for sale in Germany. JuicyFields responded, saying it was revamping its platform to comply with regulations.
By July 11, the company’s IT, customer support and payments “teams” announced they would strike the next day over disputes with management. The announcement triggered a panic among investors, who found themselves unable to withdraw funds from their accounts.
The next day, a Telegram account used by the company to communicate with clients was shut down, and contact information on the website was altered.
Recently appointed JuicyFields CEO Willie van der Merwe released a statement saying that the site had been shut down during “updating” in order to prevent hacking. It was the first of several confusing statements from various executives attached to the company.
On July 13, Communications Director Zvedza Lauric tweeted a video stating the website had been hacked and that the company was waiting to release funds. Statements on other social media said the situation would be resolved within 48 hours.
By July 14, van der Merwe resigned after less than two months as CEO, and company social media accounts started to shut down.
Three days later, former CEO Alan Glanse posted documents that indicated Paul Bergolts, Alex Vaimer and Alexi Kandinski were in control of the company. All are Russian citizens, spurring the Russian mob rumors.
On July 17, Brigit-Elisabeth Neumann, who claimed to have been CFO and a board member, posted a video and written statement claiming that changes to the website were made to “deceive” the platform’s e-growers. Her statement went on to say that she and a group of “directors” who had been listed on the site never had access to or anything to do with the JuicyFields platform.
Neumann indicated that she and these directors had formed JuicyFields AG and would file a complaint against the team at JuicyFields.io ,including Glanse, strategic partner Erika Misela and the Russian trio.
According to Spanish news outlet El Pais, JuicyFields sent out its last, confusing email to customers on July 19, which advised affected parties to “use the following email addresses to submit your story, speak your mind, send collateral for an emergency refund, or embark on a long road of endless conversations with our lawyers.”
The JuicyFields.io website has changed appearance several times since the collapse in July, and it is unclear who is operating it. The landing page now features a purple marijuana plant with Private Grow Operations Project” in a large white font and the JuicyFields logo in the upper left corner.
The page also features what seems to be an open letter for those wishing to file complaints, full of grammatical errors and links to various attorneys and victims’ groups. Cryptic screenshots of texts apparently aimed former executive Friedrich Graf von Luxberg (and his brother Stefan Ludwig), who have been implicated in the scam, also are included.
A link to refund instructions appears near the bottom the page and includes a statement saying that users that have submitted “required collateral” are already being paid from “remaining cash reserves.”