Irish investors lose millions in currency scam
POLICE forces in three countries are investigating a foreign currency investment scam which has cost clients of an Irish financial adviser millions of euro.
The scheme, run from an office in Barcelona, was a supposed 'safe bet' which allowed people to speculate on the currency markets.
Investors have told how they have lost sums of up to €250,000 each, despite a 'guarantee' that they would never lose more than 15pc of their investment.
But last November the online site fx-root.com, which took payments into an account of the OTP Bank in Bratislava, Slovakia, suddenly ceased trading.
Letterkenny-based independent financial adviser Mark O'Sullivan, whose company O'Sullivan Financial had recommended the scheme to clients in Co Donegal, flew to Barcelona to confront the UK national and Dutch national running the scheme.
However, the offices in an upmarket area of the city were empty. Friends say Dubliner Mr O'Sullivan was "personally devastated" that a scheme he believed to be legitimate had closed down and taken millions of euros of his clients' money.
Now gardai, police in the Spanish city and crime investigators in Slovakia are working together to investigate the scam.
The Herald has seen documentation which shows how the crime gang behind the fraud moved large amounts of investors' money through bank accounts in Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia using a fake company in the Central American country of Panama.
The fraud was "highly sophisticated", according to sources.
Clients who invested their money were told that the Barcelona company could buy and sell foreign currency on the international markets.
In fact, the fraudsters didn't invest the money at all.
They created an online site, complete with iPhone App, where investors could 'see' how their investment was supposedly 'working' 24 hours a day.
But the graphics were fake. The crooks even showed losses on occasion so that investors wouldn't get suspicious.
However several Irish investors wanted to visit the offices of the company in Barcelona before deciding to invest anymore.
However when Mr O'Sullivan travelled to Barcelona last November, the men behind the scheme had fled the offices. A 'to rent' sign was hanging in the window of the premises.
"It has been a nightmare for me," said one man who invested heavily in the scheme.
"I knew there were risks involved as there are with any investment scheme. If this had been a legitimate company which went bust, you have to write it off. But the fact that it was a fraud all along is hard to take in."
Another investor told the Herald: "They were clever operators. They would show gains some days and losses on other days, but always enough of a gain to keep you happy. Of course now we know that there was no investment at all."
Several British victims of the fraud sought an injunction in Slovakia to freeze the assets of the company there, but the bank account was empty. Four Irish victims have lodged formal complaints with Spanish police.
Donegal investors paid 5pc commission to Mr O'Sullivan on their gains.
Mr O'Sullivan would only say "I don't want to comment" when asked by the Herald at his offices on the Port Road in Letterkenny about the scheme.
However a close friend said he was "personally gutted" that the scheme was a fraud. The friend added: "Mark is working every hour God sends to try to rectify the situation. He invested in it himself and lost money."