Investigation | 2/25/2009 12:00:00 AM
The unedited file of Colombia’s most important pyramid scheme (Part II)
SEMANA gained access to the dossier against David Murcia Guzmán, the person behind the pyramid scheme that nearly plunged the country into a social crisis. The details about their operation and the bonds with americans are some of the details revealed.
At the same time that Murcia and his people were expanding their political networks, even by financing campaigns in Panama as has been revealed by the media there, his business in Colombia was beginning to crack. In some calls there scramble was evident because of the lack of cash in his branches where they had difficulty in fulfilling obligations to his cardholders (clients). In September 2008 one of the administrators in Putumayo spoke with her superiors in DMG, worried because they had not paid their suppliers in three months, and informed that there were branches where they had cut electricity and water. Something similar happened in their branches in the city of Pasto at another time, that required more cash than what was coming in.
Such was the flow of money that in the Avenida Chile branch in Bogotá, they were returning to their clients an average of two billion pesos (785 thousand USD) each day. The situation was becoming so critical that in the telephone conversations the managers can be heard saying “make some promotions” or authorize to “raise the payment of points,” for example to 300, which translated meant that DMG would pay 300 percent of the interest in six months, but with the condition of not redeeming the merchandise with the deposits.
Paradoxically while this was happening, there were special clients who were guaranteed set yields, and who because of their volume of money in Colombia and abroad became strategic allies of Murcia.
Until now it has been known that a large group of accounting, legal and communications advisors, very well known in Bogotá society who after receiving numerous payments on some occasion worked to put the DMG house in order, and in other occasions sought to cover up the unethical activities of the company, as was revealed to the justice system by three of the closest people to Murcia: Suárez, Pabón and Ángel.
But in the most sensitive decisions of the company Murcia would ignore the credentials of his advisors and turn to astrology. In his offices, passed by, among others, the well-known astrologist Anaís Peña, famous for offering her services to Latin American leaders. The telephone interceptions indicate that strategic decisions of the emporium that managed hundreds of thousands of millions of pesos, were made with an astral chart.
There was an incident from last year in which the company falls into disarray because Murcia, meeting with his astrologers, decided for several days to not sign any documents. Also in the recordings it is revealed how the resume of each one of his closest advisors was evaluated from an astrological point of view, the same as the financial reports and some legal files.
Murcia’s astrological consultations guided his decisions. In another of the conversations it is revealed how all of a sudden all of them were given the task of finding a bank outside of Colombia to buy, preferably in the United States, because in one of his astrological sessions Murcia was told that he would be remembered as a great banker. In little time, two of his advisors optimistically spoke of the advances they had in these negotiations, but it is not clear what finally happened.
In the calls there appears a meeting in Las Vegas with some businesspeople with whom they negotiated over a news channel, and the Panamanian press tells how with DMG money an airplane was purchased in that country.
The United States was also the home of one of the front real estate companies that Ángel and Pabón created to hide the DMG fortune. This was one of the companies that the Fiscalía, the prosecutor general’s office, took in exchange for a lighter sentence. It was also one of the companies that the U.S. government had its eyes on.
With the Americans
Shortly before being captured, Pabón asks Ángel to meet with her urgently, because they had been called by the U.S. Embassy to explain the origin of the funds that they managed there. They agreed to say that these were their own funds and from their families, but two hours later a worried Angel calls to say that “Espinosa (one of the hidden partners of Murcia) has told everything to the ‘Gringos.’”
For the Colombian investigators, the benefits that DMG offered explain above all a pyramid model in which money could arrive from anywhere. International transactions are still not completely understood. Dozens of millions of dollars began to circulate from several countries on account of DMG, and it is still not known from where they came. Ángel specialized in moving Murcia’s money in the real estate sector. Sometimes he only requested the commission of the transactions that he made, like with the case of several properties in Bogotá that Murcia bought for 10 billion pesos (about 4 million USD), and several that he negotiated with his cousin Santiago Baranchuck in Mexico. Pabón specialized in moving funds to places like Switzerland and to set up companies. In Colombia, for example, he had the order of creating hundreds of companies in order to later “burn them” in their words. Their idea was to inject funds into the financial sector. When they closed the companies, they got the banks to issue cashier’s checks, which could be used to create new companies which were not tainted.
In this way, they could also justify their funds in exotic places like China, where they had ordered a container with motorcycles with the brand DMG, to Thailand, Indonesia and India, where they had already established contacts, in some cases with their diplomatic representations, in order to open offices in those countries. Intoxicated by their wealth which they amassed at the expense of unsuspecting cardholders, they spoke among themselves of the millions of dollars that they thought DMG was worth, and that despite the sophistication and the trappings it was nothing but an illegal deposit taker from the town of La Hormiga (Putumayo).
In Murcia’s messages it is evidenced how he wanted to soon find a product that would not generate so many expenses such as the trading company that he had set up. In a chat with Ángel, Murcia felt that he had found one. It was an intangible that could be set up anywhere, the Body Channel. The goal was to create the same money carrousel but this time instead of selling appliances, they would sell subscriptions to the channel. “Buy a password that is worth 50 dollars and we will pay you 110 dollars for publicity,” said Murcia, who calculated in a year to involve three million people. “Sell and with our money we will do whatever we want for people’s savings,” he says in another of the excerpts. This occurred in August, four months before the government would intervene in the business.
There are still many unresolved questions. Although Murcia has denied that there is a hidden fortune, the volume of money transactions makes this denial unlikely. But there is no doubt that after these frantic years, the Murcia of today considers that his major asset is his political capital that he refuses to give up.
For the hearing that is taking place this week hundreds of people have come from the south of Colombia and have been protesting for a week. They hope to portray a verdict against him to show that he is a type of political victim- even more so as it is very probable that the Fiscalía will not accuse him of drug trafficking links. The Fiscalía is confident about the accusations about taking illegal money deposits and laundering the product of that activity which is a crime that has a longer sentence than drug trafficking. The same cannot be said about justice in other countries, like in Panama, where he is facing accusations of drug money laundering.
Without a doubt, new chapters will be revealed from this story in which every chapter is more surprising than the previous.