Manager of failed aborted Albanian pyramid scheme arrested

Albanian police on Tuesday arrested a man who was at large after being sentenced in absentia for running a failed pyramid investment scheme that sparked widespread rioting six years ago, authorities said. Refat Bena, 45, was arrested in a village in Librazhd district, 80 kilometers (48 miles) east of the capital, Tirana. He had been hiding there after being sentenced in 2002 to 12 years imprisonment for swindling up to US$2 million (1.63 million euros) from creditors.

The impoverished Balkan nation plunged into chaos in 1997 following the collapse of pyramid schemes in which many Albanians lost their life savings.

In all, 1.68 million investors in 24 pyramid schemes lost a total of US$1.26 billion when the schemes collapsed. Bena allegedly ran one of the schemes.

The schemes were fueled by new cash pumped in by gullible investors, and crashed when enough investors pulled out to claim their profits. Crowds looted army depots, the government ceased to function and a few thousand people died in the violence.

A temporary administration was set up with the help of the international community after a NATO-led force was sent to Albania to help restore order.

Several other managers of failed pyramid schemes have been imprisoned and many others fled Albania.

Few of the missing funds have been paid back to private investors, despite the creation of a government committee charged with handling restitution to pay off creditors until the end of the year.

Opposing politicians accuse each other of contributing to the 1997 crisis and that the loss of the assets from the schemes were sold cheaply to Socialist leaders and relatives, reports the AP.

D.M.