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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » August 29, 2012
Politics & Society
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Amber Gold Loses Shine
August 29, 2012   
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The story of the collapse of the Amber Gold company, an investment firm promising clients an unusually high annual return of 13-14 percent, is by far the biggest scandal in Poland this summer.

The Regional Prosecutor’s Office in the coastal city of Gdańsk Aug. 17 leveled six charges against Marcin P., a 28-year-old businessman who is the CEO of Amber Gold. Marcin P. admitted only to having failed to submit the company’s financial statement for 2011. He was placed under police supervision and banned from leaving the country.

Earlier Marcin P. was convicted nine times for various financial offenses, which, however, did not prevent him from setting up new businesses.

This time prosecutors charged Marcin P. with violating banking law by conducting banking operations without a permit. The prosecutors also charged him with submitting to the district court in Gdańsk forged receipts for money transfers of zl.50 million to have the Amber Gold company entered into the National Court Register (KRS). Another charge is that Marcin P. bought and sold foreign currency without having entered this activity into the register of foreign exchange services. Prosecutor Wojciech Szel±gowski said more charges may be brought against Marcin P. if new evidence is gathered.

During a search of the company’s premises and the homes of Marcin P. and his wife Katarzyna, the Internal Security Agency (ABW) Aug. 16 seized around 500 binders with documents, in addition to electronic documents, 57 kilograms of gold, 1 kilogram of platinum, and around 1 kilogram of silver. The metals were deposited with the National Bank of Poland. Their value will be estimated later. The initial estimate is that the metals are worth zl.10-12 million, according to the ABW.

As part of the investigation, the prosecutors are also checking the company for money laundering and analyzing reports from Amber Gold clients over suspicions that the company mismanaged their assets.

Amber Gold clients may lose millions of zlotys. The largest amount of money entrusted to Amber Gold by a single client was zl.3.2 million; 67 individuals bought certificates worth half a million zlotys, and 1,170 invested more than 15,000 euros. Lawyers estimate that the clients have a chance of recovering a quarter, or maybe a third, of the money invested.

Amber Gold Sp. z o.o. was set up in 2009 as a limited-liability company to invest in gold and other precious metals. It offered clients a much higher return on their investment than is the case with interest on bank deposits. The company’s business raised suspicions on the part of the Polish Financial Supervision Authority (KNF), which put it on its warning list.

Amber Gold made the headlines several weeks ago when the budget airline OLT Express, in which it was the main shareholder, reported financial problems. The news that the son of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Michał, had worked for OLT Express, stirred up a political storm.

In December 2009, the KNF notified the District Prosecutor’s Office in Gdańsk that Amber Gold could be conducting banking operations without a license. The prosecutors refused to launch an investigation, saying they failed to identify any signs of an offense being committed. The KNF appealed against that decision and the court ordered the prosecutors to reopen the case. In August 2010, the prosecutors discontinued their investigation. After another appeal by the KNF, the court ordered prosecutors to reopen the investigation again. In July 2012, the investigation was taken over by the Regional Prosecutor’s Office.

In 2011, Amber Gold acquired majority stakes in two Polish airlines, OLT Jetair and Yes Airways, and merged them to form OLT Express. The new airline offered lower prices for domestic flights and chartered flights to foreign destinations than other budget carriers. But on July 26, OLT Express announced it was suspending all regular flights. A day later, the Civil Aviation Office indefinitely suspended the aviation license for the OLT Express Regional company. And on July 31, OLT Express suspended chartered flights to destinations abroad.

OLT Express Poland filed for bankruptcy Sept. 1 and Amber Gold announced it was withdrawing from OLT Express because the payment operator had blocked revenue from OLT ticket sales. OLT Express Regional filed for bankruptcy. On Aug. 3, the CEO of Amber Gold, Marcin P., said his company did not have the “technical ability” to pay back money to clients from their deposit accounts. He added that the company had notified the Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Gdańsk about a “suspected offense committed by public officials, employees of the Polish Financial Supervision Authority and the Internal Security Agency.”

The company Aug. 13 announced that the decision was made to fold Amber Gold Sp. z o.o. based in Gdańsk while the Chałas i Wspólnicy law firm said they were preparing a class action lawsuit against Amber Gold.

Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski said after a meeting of the Financial Stability Committee that the government would take action against or non-bank businesses doing banking business without authorization.
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