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Telexfree case: why it is so difficult to arrest a financial pyramid scam suspect


Carlos Wanzeler, one of the partners of Telexfree, was arrested at the request of the USA (Image: Reproduction)

With debts of around R $ 2 billion and more than 1 million creditors, Telexfree became known as one of the largest pyramids in Brazil. Still, it has taken a long time for the case to be resolved. It was only after the intervention of the American Justice that Carlos Wanzeler, one of the partners of the company, was arrested.

The fact is that both Telexfree and its partners and stakeholders already responded to thousands of shares in Brazil and the United States. Wanzeler's life has been followed by the District of Massachusetts since 2014. What happened was a work of cooperation between Brazil and the United States.

The arrest was ordered by the American justice system, but Minister Ricardo Lewandowski of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) determined it. He also denied Brazilian citizenship to the accused, after analyzing Wanzeler's appeal to the Court.

Telexfree and its complexity

The case is beyond complex and involves not only the suspicion of a pyramid, but also money laundering. This is what the complaint made in 2014 by Special Agent John Soares to Judge David Hennessey of the Massachusetts District Court mentions.

The complaint already included the participation of Wanzeler's wife in the scheme. She was said to have received about $ 2 million through a check.

In the investigation carried out by the Federal Public Ministry in Brazil, it was found that Priscila Costa, daughter of Carlos Costa (one of the partners of Telexfree) was laundering company money in the United States. It acquired ten apartments in the US state of Florida for a total value of US $ 730 thousand (about R $ 3.06 million).

According to criminal lawyer Fernando Henrique Cardoso, pyramid schemes are complicated because it is common to have money laundering and asset concealment.

"Whoever heads the scheme is already withdrawing the money and playing elsewhere," he said.

The lawyer's sentence makes perfect sense in the light of the news that investigators in the United States discovered in 2017 the participation of another person in the alleged money laundering that would have been orchestrated by the partners of the defunct Telexfree.

Laundering money

Cleber Rocha reportedly laundered US $ 20 million from Telexfree. He was sentenced to 33 months in prison by US judge Leo Sorokin in 2018. Telexfree's partner in the United States, James Merrill, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2017 by the US court. Wanzeler, on the other hand, has come to be seen by the United States government as a fugitive since 2014.

The fact is that Wanzeler still in 2014, with his partner from Brazil Carlos Costa, came to launder money by playing a concert in Brazil by musician Paul McCartney. The ex-Beatle's fee was R $ 8 million.

The Brazilian investigation found that those involved with Ympactus Comercial, the corporate name of Telexfree, which was already declared bankrupt, would in fact be hiding assets. And through the connection with Costa's daughter in the USA, there was proof of foreign exchange evasion.

Loose suspects

The partners Costa and Wanzeler, then, on December 17 of last year, were arrested by the Federal Police through “Operation Alnilam”. However, the operation that mobilized 15 agents for these prisons was short-lived.

Just 48 hours later, judge Paulo Cesar Morais Espírito Santo, from the Federal Regional Court of the 2nd region, converted the prisons into precautionary measures to be carried out by the investigated: bimonthly appearance in court to prove his activities, and a ban on leaving the country, You must deliver your passport within 24 hours.

Cardoso, however, mentioned that converting the arrests of suspects in Brazil into restrictive measures makes sense.

“The company in question has already had its bankruptcy decreed, its assets are already frozen, the company is stopped and so there is no way for them to continue to commit the crime for which they are wanted. If there is no risk of it continuing its activity, there is no reason to keep it imprisoned ”.

Particularity of a crime

Despite this, there was a case of a former leader of Telexfree who ended up getting involved in another suspected pyramid company. Dilhermano Pereira Gonçalves had preventive detention decreed by the Public Ministry of São Paulo after publicizing the company Pay Diamond, which spread in several countries and promised daily profits from the purchase and sale of precious stones.

This, however, does not mean continuity in delinquency by Telexfree's participation. The criminalist explained that they are two totally different things.

"This suspicious performance can be read as a crime against the popular economy, which is a common crime within the jurisdiction of the State Justice, or can be seen as a crime against the financial system and here the jurisdiction would be the Federal Justice."

According to Cardoso, a criminal action that begins in an incompetent body to deal with the matter may give rise to the nullity of this process.

The risk of extradition

In Brazil alone, Telexfree responds to more than 11,000 civil suits brought by private individuals, 3 tax suits, 15 criminal suits and one public civil suit.

As if the whole scenario was no longer complex, there was also an incident involving international criminal law. Wanzeler, when acquiring the North American nationality, automatically lost the Brazilian in the interpretation of both the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) and the STF.

The fact is that the decision of the Supreme Federal Court was based on Article 12, § 4, Item II, of the Federal Constitution, which makes it clear that “the loss of nationality of the Brazilian who acquires another nationality” will be declared.

With this decision, Wanzeler, who until then was a fugitive from the US Justice, becomes a US citizen and runs the risk of being extradited to respond to the lawsuit in the United States. There, he will serve the sentence handed down by the Massachusetts District Judge.

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