Iván Briongos, the supposed leader of the crypto sect accused of defrauding thousands of young people —including some under the age of 15— throws balls out: at a press conference this Monday in Madrid, Briongos has defended that his work was “simply an intermediation”. And that, as an independent distributor, he neither made decisions, nor was he a manager, nor was he responsible for the actions of other distributors. Briongos was arrested in March last year, along with seven other people, accused of having orchestrated a pyramid scheme through the IM Academy trading academy. This Monday he has announced that he is leaving the company.
Although it supposedly taught to invest in cryptocurrencies and other risky assets, the defendants had set up, through the IM Academy and always according to the police, a framework intended to defraud their clients and enrich those responsible: trading training was scarce , and what the teachers were looking for was, according to the research, for the clients to attract more students. A classic pyramid scam: the initial registration was 200 euros, and then a monthly fee of 150 euros was paid. If the subscriber recruited two other people, he stopped paying the monthly fee, and from his third recruitment, they would begin to collect monthly from the “pyramid”.
Briongos has defended that all the activities in which he has participated were legal, and that his work was purely as an intermediary. In addition, he has stated that the majority of IM Academy participants are students, and not intermediaries. Regarding the recruitment of minors, he has defended that it was impossible, because being of legal age was an essential requirement and because they asked for a bank card, “which requires being of legal age.” In Spain, most banks grant debit cards from the age of 16, and some do so from the age of 14 with parental control. The police defend that among those affected there are minors “with a basic level of education.”
Operation Woodworm, as the police dubbed it, was born from a complaint from the Network for Sectarian Prevention and Abuse of Weakness (RedUNE) association. In November 2020, they received the first complaints from a school in Granada, “which claimed that several students had unexpectedly stopped going to class after contacting this false academy,” the president of the association told EL PAÍS shortly after the detention.
The police report states that the network used “persuasion techniques typical of sectarian organizations.” Briongos has denied that this is the case, and has recalled that multi-level selling is a legal practice in Spain. The difference with a pyramid scheme, he has defended, is that the commissions charged by intermediaries come from a commercial margin on the sale of the service. “In the pyramid, the idea of getting rich in a short time is usually sold,” he detailed.
At the time of Briongos’s arrest, the Police precisely stated that the network “captured young people with the promise of making them rich by investing in trading and cryptocurrencies.” According to the statement, Briongos boasted of being responsible for the direct or indirect recruitment of more than 2,500 people. In addition, in his social networks —which he has now abandoned— he showed a high standard of living and encouraged his followers to “take responsibility for his life.”
The online training courses and their pyramid structure were, supposedly, just the structure that supported everything else. The key to the framework was what in the jargon of the academy is known as “signals”: investment orders in certain products that the top sends to the intermediate managers and these, in turn, transmitted to the victims.
The National Securities Market Commission (CNMV) already warned in 2020 that IM Academy was not authorized to provide services of a financial nature. Briongos has again distanced itself from this accusation and has denied that it has recommended investment products. Asked about the CNMV’s warning, he has instructed journalists to ask the company: “As an independent distributor, my only job is to connect people with education.”
More than 400 families have denounced the activities of the crypto sect. The alleged leader of the criminal network has defended that “each person must take responsibility for the decisions they make.” “If he were a customer he wouldn’t be paying for a product he didn’t use”, he has concluded. IM Academy, whom Briongos has accused of leaving his intermediaries defenseless, continues to organize massive events in Europe. The investigation is now in the hands of the National Court.
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