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Sunday World/Cannabiz Africa

24/04/29, 10:00

The former JuicyFields CEO has reportedly been arrested in Switzerland as part of Europol’s crackdown on the fraudulent cannabis crowd-funding scam. He’s also facing fraud charges in Cape Town in connection with allegedly siphoning off investor cash for his own interests.

South African cannabis entrepreneur Willem Van der Merwe has been living in Switzerland since JuicyFields imploded in July 2022. He was appointed the group’s  CEO in May 2022 and resigned in July that year, just days before the platform shut down, with hundreds of millions of euros in investments vanishing. 


At least 200 South African investors were among those duped.


READ All of Cannabiz Africa's coverage of the JuicyFields scam here.


Van der Merwe has long proclaimed his innocence of any wrongdoing even denying that JuicyFields was a scam. But at the same time saying he was not aware of what was going on behind the scenes at the time. Now his claims that he was clean will be put to the test on two fronts:


  • His involvement in the broader JuicyFields series of scams which saw investors from at least 11 countries lose around US$700 million. He was reportedly arrested in Switzerland during Europol’s ‘Action Day’ on 11 April 2024. Europol has so far not released the identities of the nine people arrested in connection with the scam. Sources told the Sunday World that Van der Merwe was among nine suspects nabbed in a global operation by Europol two weeks ago, along with two German nationals, Graf and Stefan von Luxburg, who are reportedly his close associates.

  • A fraud case has been opened against him in Cape Town, alleging that he swindled investors out of R70 million which was earmarked for his business Dacha Corporation, but a chunk of which landed up in his wife’s bank account.

The two cases appear to be linked. Van Der Merwe said earlier this year that he’d received 3,5 million Euros liked to the JuicyFields scam but said he had handed it over to “the German authorities”. It is unlikely that it ever got there. Instead, Sunday World is reporting that it has documentation to prove that as soon as money was transferred into his business account, “Van der Merwe allegedly started moving investor money from his company account into his wife’s bank account. This was done in a series of payments.”


When asked about the bank transfers totaling an estimated R20-million to his wife’s account, Van der Merwe said: “What happens in my business is none of your concern.”


Police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe confirmed that a case of fraud had been registered at the Dieprivier Police Station in Cape Town on 15 April 2024 and that two of van der Merwe’s associates, Marianne Brown and Darren Smith, were included in the charges.


She said “ The case docket has been handed over to commercial crimes. But no one has been arrested yet.”


It is alleged that Willem van der Merwe and two of his business associates convinced international investors to pay €3.5-million in his cannabis business, Dacha Corporation. The funds were for the cultivation, harvest, packaging, and sale of medical cannabis.


Sunday World has seen documents, including a contract between the investors and Van der Merwe’s Dacha Corporation. It was agreed that payments to fund the venture would be split. A portion would be transferred into his South African bank account, and the other in crypto currency.


When contacted for comment regarding Van der Merwe’s arrest and the confirmed fraud charge against him and his company, Brown said she had nothing to do with Van der Merwe. She said that she was consulting on his cannabis ventures in South Africa.


“I’m an independent consultant on one of the Dacha South Africa projects. I am unaware of any of the above. So therefore, I don’t have any comment,” she said.


Smith had not responded to questions sent to him last week regarding the arrest of Van der Merwe. He also did not respond to questions on the fraud charge that he faces together with Van der Merwe.

Those arrested, including “The Russian", Sergei Berenzin, who was detained in the Dominica Republic, are believed to have masterminded the creation of the JuicyFields e-growing platform. Investors would make a minimum investment of €50 in the production and sale of medical cannabis. The product would be grown by licensed growers around the world. However, it appears to have all been a giant fraud that was orchestrated by the Russia mafia.


Europol released a statement following its successful international operation. The agency said: “The widespread occurrence of police reports across Europe prompted Europol to initiate a coordinated approach for investigations involving multiple EU and non-EU countries.


“This law enforcement focus on JuicyFields and related investment platforms was followed by the establishment of a joint investigation team at Eurojust. [It was] led by the German and Spanish police, the French gendarmerie, and supported by Europol. [Also] the National Crime Agency of the UK and other law enforcement agencies from numerous Member States.


“After painstakingly piecing together breadcrumbs of digital evidence, investigators had drawn up a joint intelligence picture. This allowed police forces across Europe to initiate this wave of arrests.”


The international crime-fighting agency said that the “total damages resulting from fake investments in the advertised cannabis cultivation crowdsourcing platform amount to a staggering €645 million.”


“But actual and unreported damages could be significantly higher. In total, an estimated 550,000 participants worldwide, most of them European citizens, were registered as online investors. Using bank transfers or cryptocurrencies, around 186,000 participants actually transferred funds into the elaborate Ponzi scheme active from early 2020 to July 2022,” said the law enforcement agency.


“Initially, more than 500,000 e-growers were receiving their investment returns. In July 2022, however, the criminals behind the scheme abruptly removed company profiles from social media networks. [They also] stopped users from logging in to their accounts, thus freezing cash withdrawals,” said Europol.


“During the investigation and action day, €4,700,000 in bank accounts and €1,515,000 in cryptocurrencies.  €106,000 in cash and €2,600,000 in real estate assets were seized or frozen. Law enforcement also seized several luxury vehicles, works of art, cash, and various luxury items. In addition, large numbers of electronic devices and documents [were seized],” the organisation said in a statement.

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South African Willem v d Merwe Among those Arrested for JuicyFields Scam: Also Faces Fraud Charges in Cape Town Over Missing Investor Cash

South African Willem v d Merwe Among those Arrested for JuicyFields Scam: Also Faces Fraud Charges in Cape Town Over Missing Investor Cash

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