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Unraveling The Scandal: Prison Allegations And The Legacy Of South Africa’s Largest Crypto Scam

According to local reports from Goiás 24 Horas, Steynberg was purportedly engaged in activities to safeguard his acquired wealth while confined, allegedly operating from the prison warden’s office.

By Anna B Kiwanuka

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Allegations have surfaced regarding Johann Steynberg, the former CEO of Mirror Trading International (MTI), South Africa’s colossal Bitcoin-based pyramid scheme. Reportedly detained in a Brazilian prison in Goiás, Steynberg stands accused of accessing a computer and the internet without authorization.

Maxsuel Miranda das Neves, president of the Goiás Penal System Employees Union, brought forward these claims, demanding clarification from Josimar Pires Nicolau do Nascimento, the director-general of Goiás Penal Police. According to local reports from Goiás 24 Horas, Steynberg was purportedly engaged in activities to safeguard his acquired wealth while confined, allegedly operating from the prison warden’s office. The report described him as ‘Peixe graúdo, cheio de privilégios’ – a big fish flush with privilege.

MTI, founded in 2019 in South Africa, lured participants worldwide with promises of multiplying Bitcoin investments by around 10% monthly, incentivizing recruitment to boost earnings. The scheme gained momentum during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, but in April of the following year, a Western Cape High Court acting judge, Alma de Wet, ruled MTI unlawful, labeling it a pyramid and a Ponzi-style scam. Despite attempted appeals, De Wet’s ruling stood, shedding light on approximately 29,421 bitcoins involved, although insider sources hint the actual number might reach 46,000 bitcoins.

Recent reports suggest 39,000 bitcoins were deposited into the scheme, with 32,000 withdrawn, leaving a disparity of roughly 7,000 bitcoins. Regardless of the figure, MTI remains the largest pyramid or Ponzi-like scheme in South Africa’s history. At the current bitcoin valuation of approximately R840,000, even the conservative estimate pegs MTI’s value at R24.7 billion, dwarfing other notorious schemes like BHI Trust and Travel Ventures International.

MTI faced scrutiny in September 2020 when a group called Anonymous ZA exploited vulnerabilities in its website, exposing its operations alongside journalists and community members. Global financial regulators, including South Africa’s Financial Sector Conduct Authority, issued warnings, prompting an office raid. Steynberg’s disappearance in December 2020 led to speculations ranging from absconding with funds to foul play, fueling conspiracy theories.

However, a year later, Brazilian news reported Steynberg’s arrest in Goiânia on charges of using forged documents. Despite being found guilty and fined, extradition proceedings seem imminent as he remains in custody. Judicial documents revealed Steynberg’s lavish lifestyle in Brazil, including leisure helicopter rides and property purchases linked to companions.

Recent allegations by Neves hint at special privileges for Steynberg in prison, suggesting unmonitored access to a computer and the internet, raising concerns given his international cryptocurrency fraud accusations. The Goiás State General Directorate of Penitentiary Administration has launched an internal investigation in response to Neves’ claims, emphasizing adherence to the law and the seriousness of the inquiry.

Efforts to contact Steynberg, Neves, and Nascimento for comments yielded no response.


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