Two members of Antwerp’s ultra-Orthodox community were arrested last week as part of a multi-national investigation into an alleged Ponzi scheme which the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation says defrauded 223,000 people in 177 countries out of millions of euros.
The two men, who were among five detained during a series of raids across Belgium last Tuesday, were later identified in Belgian media as Antwerp moneylenders Mendy Z and Shrage P. In a photo published in the press, both suspects are dressed in typical ultra-Orthodox fashion, with one of them bearing the side-curls typical of ultra-Orthodox groups.
Antwerp is the home to around 15,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Investigators linked both men to the vitae.co and vitaetoken.io websites, which belonged to a Swiss-registered company and, according to Europol, had been used “to trick people into investing into a Ponzi scheme.”
The agency stated that the raids, which were carried out by the Belgian Federal Judicial Police, led to the seizure of more than 1m Euros in cash as well as 1.5m euros in cryptocurrency and 17 luxury vehicles.
According to Belgian business daily De Tijd, the websites had brought in tens of millions of euros for its proprietors, who have been charged with fraud and money laundering as well as membership in a criminal organization.
vitae.co advertised itself as a “next generation opportunity for everyone to achieve global prosperity,” describing itself as a block chain-based venture in which users could “earn rewards by interacting with the site, the same way you interact with any social media websites: liking, posting and sharing content.”
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Visitors to the site are now redirected to a message from law enforcement declaring that it “offers content that is considered illegal according to Belgian legislation.”