The president of a failed Colombian financial services firm suspected of laundering drug profits and bilking thousands of mostly poor investors of millions of dollars has been arrested in Panama and deported, officials said Thursday.
David Murcia Guzman, 28, founder of the DMG financial services firm, was detained Wednesday night near Panama City as he prepared to flee to Costa Rica, where there is no extradition treaty with Colombia, Colombian national police chief Oscar Naranjo told reporters.
DMG is one of 40 financial services firms in Colombia under investigation for running suspected pyramid or Ponzi schemes. The firms, which attracted investors with promises of extraordinary returns, are suspected of simply paying early investors and enriching promoters with money from people who invested later, police said.
The Murcia arrest and shutdown of DMG led hundreds of investors to protest against government officials Thursday in Bogota. Police tear-gassed demonstrators who blocked a principal street in the capital while showing support for DMG.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told reporters that Murcia was also suspected of laundering money for drug trafficker Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, a.k.a. Chupeta, and paramilitary leader Carlos Mario Jimenez, alias Macaco. Both men were extradited to the United States this year to face drug-trafficking charges.
Bank branches in several Colombian cities reported withdrawals worth millions of dollars in recent months that depositors said they were placing with the financial services firms. Many investors sold their houses and cars to raise cash.
The bubble burst last week when one of the largest firms, DRFE, halted payments, provoking panic and riots in a dozen cities among investors desperate to retrieve their money. DRFE founder Carlos Alfredo Suarez, a former street vendor and parking lot attendant, fled the country and is wanted for questioning.
The government shuttered DMG’s 59 offices Monday and issued an arrest warrant for Murcia. Police in Panama and Ecuador, where DMG also had operations, are also investigating him.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said Thursday that he had called Panamanian President Martin Torrijos to thank him for arresting “these persons responsible for acts of fraud.”
The Colombian government declared a state of emergency Monday to increase its arrest and seizure powers in connection with the investigation.
Special prosecutor Mario Iguaran said a “patient but efficient” probe of DMG began in mid-2007 after huge loads of DMG cash were recovered in Putumayo and Choco states.