Armenia’s Central Bank on Wednesday issued a statement urging people to refrain from participation in the MMM-2011 pyramid scheme operating in the country.
MMM-2011 (the three letters stand for “We Can Do a Lot” in Russia), founded by Sergei Mavrodi, uses the WebMoney online payment system to allow investors to buy tickets that work like shares, but have no real value. The project’s mastermind has promised investors returns of 20-30 percent per month.
“The Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) doesn’t issue licenses for such activities. CBA warns citizens and organizations about the risks the financial scheme poses to losses of significant funds and properties,” the statement said.
In April, Prosecutors in Moldova opened a criminal investigation into the activities of the new business project of Mavrodi. A license from Moldova’s National Bank is required for all entities that carry out financial transactions in Moldova, the Prosecutor General’s department of social and economic investigation said. The National Bank confirmed that acceptance of deposits from the population requires a license, which MMM-2011 does not possess.
Belarusian prosecutors have also open an investigation into the activities of MMM-2011.
A former mathematician, Mavrodi was released from prison in 2007 after serving a sentence for offenses relating to the collapse of the original MMM. He described the new project as a “financial social network.”
While his 1994 scheme used an aggressive TV and radio advertising campaign to reel in investors, the new project relies solely on the Internet, a move which many see as a bid to attract Russia’s technologically-savvy youth.
Mavrodi’s 1994 swindle, which came to be regarded as a symbol of the lawlessness of the chaotic 1990s in Russia, was one of the largest among hundreds of other such schemes in that era. The pyramids took advantage of the ignorance of a nation still learning the basics of a new capitalist system. Ponzi schemes became so commonplace that their prices were quoted on the front pages of newspapers.
According to estimates, the MMM scam attracted between two and five million investors, including a number of high-profile celebrities, who lost around $1.5 billion when it collapsed.