Spanish "mini-Madoff" sentenced to 13 years

As the 19-nation currency area finally emerges from years of crisis, there is agreement in many eurozone capitals that it must be buttressed to better weather future economic storms -- but not all countries agree on how best to do it

A Spanish man has been sentenced to more than 13 years in jail for running a pyramid scheme that swindled 350 million euros ($372 million) from over 180,000 investors in Europe, the United States and Latin America.

Spain's National Court found German Cardona Soler, 46, dubbed the "mini-Madoff" in reference to jailed US conman Bernard L. Madoff, guilty of fraud, money laundering, document falsification and criminal association, according to a ruling published Friday.

Cardona's company, Finanzas Forex, offered returns of as much as 10-20 percent monthly for investments in currencies and instead used the money to buy real estate for himself and colleagues. He was arrested in 2011 in the Mediterranean city of Valencia along with two others.

The court said only five percent of the money was invested in currencies and its clients received "ridiculous quantities" in return for their investments.

The bulk of the money raised was used to buy buildings in Colombia, Spain, Panama and the United States for a total of 81 million dollars.

The company also used the money to buy $107 million in gold, the court said in a ruling dated March 9.

Finanzas Forex, which operated between 2007 and 2010, had over 186,000 clients. They were given false information about the gains their investments were making via a company web page.

Cardona's Colombian wife, Lina Maria Mantilla, 47, was sentenced to three years in jail for money laundering and criminal association.

The court ordered Cardona to pay a fine of 300 million euros while his wife was hit with a fine of 900,000 euros.

Madoff is serving a 150-year sentence at a federal prison in North Carolina after he confessed to running a massive Ponzi scheme that fraudulently took in anywhere between $23 billion and $65 billion, depending on whether interest is included in the tally.

He never actually invested even a penny of the sums his clients entrusted to him, instead drawing on funds from new investors to remunerate the older ones.

But the house of cards collapsed in December 2008 when a growing number of investors, panicked by the financial crisis, attempted to cash out their investments.

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