Picam Affair

Police raid Berlin money manager on suspicion of Ponzi scheme

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Looking everywhere for that money. Source: Reuters

Authorities coordinated a series of raids in Germany and Switzerland this week on suspicion that Berlin money manager Picam has been conducting a Ponzi scheme to defraud investors.

Prosecutors estimate losses for investors may be at least €87 million as they followed the money trail of seven suspects in Berlin, Munich, Leipzig and Switzerland. The Berlin search warrant, made available to Handelsblatt, suggests a conspiracy dating back to 2009 to mount a classic Ponzi scheme of paying out putative returns to investors with new fund inflows while skimming off generous fees for the alleged perpetrators.

As Handelsblatt reported last month, investor concerns were mounting as Picam halted payments, stopped sending statements and provided muddled information about its investment strategies. Search warrants now indicate prosecutors suspect the money was never invested but sent on a circuitous trail to mask the scheme. Altogether, somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 investors paid in €300 million to the firm. Lawyers for many of them have filed criminal complaints seeking an investigation.

“If it is really a Ponzi scheme, money that has already been paid out could be reclaimed.”

Matthias Schröder, Frankfurt lawyer

Among the suspects are Thomas Enzeroth, the marketing manager at Picam’s Berlin headquarters and Peter Züllig, board member of the Piccor investment firm in Baar, Switzerland, the contractual partner for investors. Mr. Enzeroth did not respond to Handelsblatt’s requests for comment. Mr. Züllig said the home searches were “the logical consequence” of criminal complaints made by investors against the firm, but didn’t comment on being named a suspect himself.

Mr. Enzeroth did email the 70 advisors who brokered the Picam investments for their clients this week to inform them the confiscation of documents by authorities had significantly impaired the firm’s capability to provide service.

At various times, the Picam managers said their promised returns of 15 to 20 percent resulted from using leverage in the trading of DAX futures or were being invested in liquid securities in Luxembourg. In fact, prosecutors allege, much of the money was loaned on to firms controlled by Mr. Enzeroth in Mallorca, Switzerland’s Lake Zug and Berlin. Some of these funds eventually completed the circle back to Piccor.

The alleged conspirators kept shifting their tactics as regulators and supervisors began to scrutinize their activity, issuing misleading, contradictory and apparently deceptive explanations regarding the investments, until eventually the scheme collapsed.

Many Picam investors now face the loss of their investments, but even those who received payouts in the past may not be home free. “If it is really a Ponzi scheme, money that has already been paid out could be reclaimed,” said Matthias Schröder, a lawyer for more than fifty Picam investors.

Other suspects include Stephan Blohm, who handled the Luxembourg securities at the Von der Heydt Invest firm there, as well as a lawyer in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, an accountant in Berlin, and a bank manager in Leipzig. A spokesman for Von der Heydt said the firm had separated themselves from Mr. Blohm at the end of 2016 and then discovered some murky transactions in his accounts. A lawyer for Mr. Blohm said he would need more time to respond to Handelsblatt’s request for comment.

One potential suspect who does not appear in the search warrant is a Gibraltar investment manager by the name of Peter Meller. Picam sought to make him the scapegoat for disappearing funds, but it turns out he may have been pure fabrication. Gibraltar financial authorities could find no trace of him or his firm.

Lars-Marten Nagel is an investigative reporter for Handelsblatt. Darrell Delamaide is a Washington, DC-based writer and editor for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the authors: nagel@handelsblatt.com and d.delamaide@extern.handelsblatt.com.

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