HARARE – Zhao Jiaotong, the suspected kingpin in the infamous E-Creator Ponzi scheme saga, appeared before a Harare magistrate on Friday facing fraud amounting to US$1 million.
Jiaotong, 39, was also slapped with money laundering charges.
Prosecutors said the Chinese national fleeced unsuspecting clients through operating a fake investment project.
Jiaotong appeared before magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa who remanded him in custody to Monday for bail application.
According to court papers, his accomplices include Trymore Tapfumaneyi, Justin Kuchekenya, Abraham Mutambu who are also now in the hands of police.
Another suspect, an Ivorian national identified as Billy Thomas Syedou is still unaccounted for.
Allegations against Jiaotong are that in January this year, he hatched a plan to defraud unsuspecting Zimbabweans through an online investment Ponzi scheme.
It is alleged that on 7 February, Jiaotong and his alleged accomplices registered a company with the Zimbabwean Registrar of Companies, styled E-Creator Electronic Commerce [Private] Limited under company registration number 2853/23, with its office situated at room number 15 and 16, 10th Floor Joina City Building, Harare.
They went on to launch the company as an online e-commerce operator with a global internet as its core.
It is alleged that from February to July 2023, they misrepresented to unsuspecting Zimbabweans that if they invested with the company, they were going to enjoy huge monthly profits proportional to the amounts invested.
As such, many Zimbabweans joined and invested up to US$1 million in total through various Ecocash subscriber lines supplied on the platform by the suspect.
It is further alleged that to make the company more attractive and appealing to unsuspecting clients, Jiaotong used the media, including the national television broadcaster Zimbabwean Television (ZTV), social media and popular Zimbabwean socialites namely Tarisai Cleopatra Munetsiwa also known as Madam Boss, and Admire Mushambi also known as Mama Vee to advertise the business on their social media platforms.
They also employed various agents in major towns and cities throughout the country in order to market the business.
“On July 3, some of the complaints encountered challenges in accessing their funds and approached the company for clarifications,” prosecutors said.
“One of the accused, Mutambu assured these complainants that it was a system upgrade that was affecting them from accessing their funds.
“He further advised them that the situation would normalise in due course.”
However, on 5 July 2023, the state says, complainants were shocked to realise that E-Creator Electronic Commerce [Private] Limited had actually sent a notice on their website that they were no-longer operating, and they posted the passport photo of accused Jiaotong as the one who had taken their investments and absconded to China.
Clients are said to have visited the investor’s offices to find directors having vacated the premise with nothing to suggest they were still continuing with operations.
It is also alleged clients were also informed that Jiaotong had withdrawn their investments and fled.
As a result of his actions, prosecutors allege, clients suffered an actual prejudice of US$1 million and nothing was recovered. — ZimLive