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Fugitive Gamer Extradited to Turkey to Face Ponzi Scheme Charges

The fugitive developer of a FarmVille-inspired online game is set to face fraud charges in Turkey after being extradited by authorities in Brazil, where he was on the run over allegations of running a $130-million Ponzi scheme.

Mehmet Aydin, the 29-year-old founder of the once-popular Farm Bank game that shut in early 2018, is being returned to Turkey on Saturday, deputy interior minister Ismail Catakli said.

One of Aydin’s defense attorneys, Fatih Kus, said his client turned himself in to the Turkish consulate in Sao Paulo earlier this week out of fear for his life. Aydin sent a video shortly before his surrender to Turkish newspaper Sozcu, where he promised to prove his innocence through in court. Aydin had no intention of building a Ponzi, or pyramid, schemewhen he set up Farm Bank, Kus told Bloomberg by phone on Friday.

Like the online farming simulation game Farmville, Aydin’s Ciftlik Bank as it’s known in Turkish, allowed players to trade virtual animals and crops. The difference is his participants had to invest real cash, which Aydin said would be used to finance Europe’s biggest dairy farm project.

The proceeds were massive. Hundreds of thousands of Turkish gamers were found to have spent over $300 million on Farm Bank, DHA news agency reported in 2019, citing court documents.

The difference between what investors paid the company and what has been eventually repaid was around $130 million, according to DHA.

Aydin fled Turkey in early 2018 after Turkey’s Customs Ministry charged Farm Bank with aggravated fraud. Prosecutors have since pressed charges that could carry up to thousands of years against suspects, including Aydin.

Shortly before he left Turkey, Aydin had invited his fellow citizens to a central Anatolian town where he said he was going to build a $185 million dairy facility, housing 35,000 cattle, owned by those playing the Farm Bank game. The facilities Aydin promised were never built but authorities ended up seizing around 1,000 cattle that belonged to the company, Turkey’s state media reported at the time.

Pyramid and Ponzi schemes are get-rich-quick scams that typically offer returns to investors from money paid in by subsequent participants. There isn’t an actual investment backing it up and eventually the system falls apart, leaving later investors with nothing.

Source: Bloomberg