Durban - Thousands of South African investors who ploughed more than R9 billion into Mirror Trading International (MTI) are reeling in shock after the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) announced that it was finalising its investigation into what it believed was an “illegal operation”.
The FSCA said this week that it and other international authorities had previously warned the public against trading with MTI.
It had received fresh complaints in the past few days from investors who were unable to redeem their investments.
The FSCA earlier said it had reported the matter to the police for investigation.
“The FSCA now reports that its investigation into this entity is near completion as MTI is not licensed to conduct financial services and has not applied for such a licence. The authority believes that MTI and its senior management are conducting an illegal operation, misleading clients and have contravened several laws,” the FSCA said.
“MTI first started trading in April 2019. Members of the public were invited to register on the MTI website and move their Bitcoin from their Bitcoin wallet to MTI Bitcoin wallets. From the MTI Bitcoin wallet, the Bitcoin were transferred to MTI’s forex platform “broker of choice” by the name of FXChoice Ltd (“FXChoice”). Trading was conducted in derivative instruments based on forex pairs.”
The FSCA said later MTI apparently experienced substantial losses (of up to 80%) and, as a result, it requested its members to delink their respective FXChoice accounts from the multi-account manager account and move their bitcoin to a pooled account.
As a result, from August last year, MTI employed a bot (high frequency artificial intelligence trading) together with a head trader and trading team to make all its trading decisions, with great success. The authority found evidence contradicting this assertion, the FSCA said.
It said it had found no evidence of any significant store of crypto assets on any trading platform. Most crypto balances appeared in the name and under control of one of MTI’s senior executives.
The FSCA said investors should expect the worst regarding any hope of a refund.
“Time will tell but tracing, and freezing Cyber Assets may end up being very difficult or impossible. Unfortunately, after we and other regulators around the world warned the public not to invest, many new persons invested and many chose to ignore our warnings and continued investing. We will do what we can to aid them to recover the funds invested, but there are investors from many countries and the money was converted by the investors into bitcoin which has new and unique challenges,” the FSCA said.
MTI and the senior people involved in the company, whose names are known to The Mercury, could not be reached for comment.
However, in a statement MTI issued on its social media channels on Tuesday this week, the firm said a senior executive was the cause of its woes.
“The whole management team is co-operating with law enforcement and will continue to do so until this matter is resolved,” the firm said.
Several investors, many who are based in Durban, spoke to The Mercury, some on condition of anonymity because they were afraid while others were embarrassed about their misplaced trust. Investors said they had been told that they would be paid 10% of the investment sum from every person they recruited to invest in the scheme but that the payments were derived from profits and not from recruitees deposits. Sources have estimated the total affected investments to be in the region of R9.9 billion that investors need to redeem.
Pretoria resident Vivian Lusibi said she was angry as she had invested R500 000 in the scheme in March and a relative had invested a further R500 000 last month. However, when they wanted to draw their funds on November 13 they were unable to do so. She said the person who had recruited her ploughed R5 million into the scheme.
“The money is just stuck until today. I am feeling very bad,” Lusibi said.
A Durban man said he had ploughed millions into the scheme and was reeling in shock after learning on Saturday that the firm was being investigated.
He said he had been elevated to a “leadership position” in the scheme because he was a big investor.
“I blame myself and I hope my family can forgive me. It was the biggest show in the world. There should be a movie made of this. I was on an emotional roller-coaster ride,” he said.
A former Ballito man who is living abroad said he had invested more than $40 000 (about R583 000) and members on an MTI social media group he belonged to had collectively invested R40m.
“I honestly think the money was taken long before this all blew up. They were allowing people to take their so called 10% bonuses for signing up new people. But the interest they were getting in their investments kept them hooked. So, no one drew their initial investments just their bonuses,” he said.
Hawks spokesperson Colonel Katlego Mogale confirmed that a case had been opened for investigation.
“No arrests have been made as yet. FSCA is assisting with identifying victims in the matter,” Mogale said.
“We urge that those who have become victims, to contact their nearest police station.”