September 2, 2010; Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution | More than 100,000 people in the tiny West African nation of Benin were robbed of more than $130 million of their savings in a Ponzi scheme operated by Investment Consultancy and Computering Services (ICC), a nonprofit computer service operating illegally as a bank. All told, some 130,000 people unwittingly handed over their money in hopes of outsized investment returns that, like their nest eggs, they’ll never see.
The institution was forced to shut down in July, and more than a dozen employees jailed. In Benin, yearly income averages out to $750, so for many, the loses represent years of savings. Forty-year old Lambert Saizonou, an electrician, said he was promised an interest rate of 200 percent. He planned to use the earnings to buy his first house. “Now,” he said, “I must start saving again, little by little.”
One of the reasons savers flocked to the bank is because of ads that featured Benin’s President Boni Yayi and other government officials posing alongside ICC’s managers. “We saw them on television,” said Pierre Dossa, a mechanic who lost his savings. “How could we not believe in it?”
Although the president claims ignorance of the scam, others suspect he is complicit. Some members of the country’s national assembly are calling for his impeachment. For the victims, their only hope rests in the ability of investigators to recover missing funds.—Bruce Trachtenberg