Friday, October 23, 2020

U.S charges Swiss firm named in Panama Papers with stock manipulation

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Two executives and a Swiss firm linked to shell companies in the Panama Papers data leak were charged in the U.S. with scamming investors in pump-and-dump schemes.

Blacklight SA and the executives bought shares of small publicly traded companies and then publicized false information such as pending merger deals, prosecutors said. As shares surged on the fake information, their positions were dumped at inflated values, making them millions in profits, according to the U.S.

The Swiss firm was set up as an asset management company. It was at the center of 14 shell companies incorporated in British Anguila, Samoa and elsewhere, according to the Offshore Leaks Database maintained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The shell companies were incorporated in 2014 and 2015, after, according to prosecutors, the pump-and-dump scam had started.

The Panama Papers refers to the leak of 11.5 million documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. The documents detailed financial and attorney information for more than 214,000 offshore entities.

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Also charged in the Blacklight case are Kenneth Ciapala, a dual citizen of the U.K. and Switzerland who founded the company, and Ulrik Debo, identified as a Danish national living in Europe and working for a Cayman Islands-based financial services firm. Both have been arrested in the U.K., and the U.S. is seeking their extradition.

It’s not clear whether either of the men have lawyers in the U.S. Contact information for the company couldn’t be immediately found on the internet or in financial data bases.

Ciapala and Blacklight were also charged with money laundering. They’re accused of disguising the proceeds of the scheme with fake invoices to justify wire transfers through the financial system. Some of the transfers were sent directly to third-party sellers of luxury goods and automobiles, prosecutors said.

The charges were filed by prosecutors in New York under seal last month. They were made public on Thursday.

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