BULL STREET - The art of the Con

Albania, A Land Of The Strange

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 Albanian’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 Albania’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 Eve’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. Veja’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 Veja’s company had hired 1,500 bodyguards to protect their senior officials, used mobile telephones[35] to communicate with each other (unheard of in Albania), and had expensive limo’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 accountant’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 wasn’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 Company’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. 

 

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