- The art of the Con
The Iron Curtain came down and the people in Europe
had found democracy. On the other hand, they had lived under a government that
had socially provided for them for so long that most of the people were not
capable of dealing with the new economics. It was not long before someone in
Albania read something in a book about the American gentleman by the name of
Ponzi. Liking the sound of getting something for nothing, the criminal in waiting,
determined to construct something even grander. He would create a scam, which
would have famous Albanianâ€™s indicate publicly that they not only recommended
the transaction but also had invested in it and were getting so rich that they
could not spend their newfound money fast enough. He was only the first of a
long line of Albanian confidence men that all copied the original format, which
had become popular in Boston some time ago.
Moreover, at that time, the Albanians, were probably
further removed from world events than any other group of people with the possible
exception of Tibetan Monks who abstain from any form of communication as part
of their vows. While other scams were taking place all over the place during
this period, Albanians were tuned into the rest of the globe and were not of
the opinion that people lie in public other than their politicians before election
day. This time, however because of that an entire country was nearly wiped out
by a pyramid scheme adapted to real estate, everyone grew up in a worldly sense,
really fast. However, when the smoke had cleared the public determined that
in the best interests of justice, the entire government should be immediately
boiled in oil. In typical Albanian fashion, kindly President Sali Berisha naturally
proclaimed his innocence and placed blame squarely upon the Mafia.
When a senior government official asked for calm,
an angry crowd almost killed him, and it was only the fact that the mob was
able to beat up an entire squad of riot police that took their attention away
long enough for the official to escape. Three hundred thousand people were
fleeced within a very small country, and in an effort to get even, they went
on a rampage, pillaging and burning municipal buildings at random, all the time
blaming the government for their losses. Even Albaniaâ€™s deputy prime minister
got a rock in the head and crowbar in the back for his trouble as he attempted
to assuage the crowd. A total of 118 people were associated with nourishing
the scheme that hit one out of every 10 people in the country and one out of
every three families. Undoubtedly the highest proportion of people in one country
to be taken advantage of in a single transaction since Adam ate Eveâ€™s apple.
The government, in actuality looked the other way
had allowed any number of these schemes to flourish. The one that stands out,
even among a collection of classic illegal transactions solely designed to separate
the people from their money, was the largest and most successful ever pulled
off in Albania and continues to operate under the original founder; Veja Alimucaj.
Vejaâ€™s Company, was not just your normal everyday Albanian fraud. According
to Deloitte & Touché, the giant accounting company hired by the Albanian
Government to look into the matter, found that they Vejaâ€™s company had hired
1,500 bodyguards to protect their senior officials, used mobile telephones to communicate with each other (unheard of in Albania), and
had expensive limoâ€™s waiting at the ready along with the always appropriate
and much needed helicopter.
Moreover, Veja was just an average Albanian citizen
who spent his time, when not running the company, involved in smuggling weapons
and laundering money. Talk about audacity, this man was able to convince the
fleeced investors that the accounting firm of Deloitte Touché was to blame for
the people not getting their money back. The Albanian victims were so gullible
that when Veja first told them this “Alice in Wonderland” story, many of them
went on a hunger strike at the accountantâ€™s headquarters. Ever since, senior
Deloitte people were forced to travel with bodyguards, and several bombs have
gone off in their premises.
Veja garnered investments from 92,000 Albanian Citizens
by promising them heaven on earth and quite a bit more. He would place their
money into valuable real estate investments, which would operate on two levels.
In the first instance, the people would be able to profit from the appreciation
of the properties that were acquired, and then, when it came time to retire,
they would live in absolute luxury in the estates constructed by his consortium.
Instead of a dream, they now have a nightmare: a cumulative loss of almost $260
million and an assortment of chicken farms and seedy real estate. These assets
are evaluated at some $33 million, but with losses amounting to almost $500,000
per month, even that kind of money wasnâ€™t going to last long.
Officials of the Albanian Government were convinced
that they were going to be tarred and feathered unless they did something quickly,
and so they placed Veja under house arrest and ordered him to sell the Companyâ€™s
remaining assets and return what was left to the people. Veja, not a great
believer in Government, was unwilling to liquidate his assets and did what any
other Albanian would do under the circumstances: he organized a national hunger
strike. The people clamored to be allowed to go without food as a vote for
Veja because he told them with time, he could return not only all of their money,
but deliver on his original promises of El Dorado as well. He further indicated
that the Government really did not want to see the people prosper and indicated
that they were standing in his way in his efforts to make the wealthy.
The Government became paralyzed. Literally all of
the investors believed Veja, and officials were afraid to arrest him. These
delaying actions reduced the amount of money that could be returned at an ever-accelerating
pace. Officials started to cringe because they became concerned that they themselves
would become chopped liver when the people found out they were being had once
again. In the meantime, Albania is helping its import/export balance because
food imports have dropped to literally nothing now that there is no money to
purchase the basics.