“I even sold my house”: the opaque multilevel business that Cuba can blow up

The success of an opaque digital assets company has led many to wonder if all of Cuba is not, perhaps, involved in a pyramid scam

Young Ruslan’s story was a success story. In his own words, he had joined Trust Investing (TI) in May 2019 with $ 15, the minimum investment accepted by the company. A year and a half later, Ruslan Concepción claimed to have a daily income of more than $ 100,000. He was a self-made millionaire, an example for thousands of Cubans hit by the economic crisis and the pandemic. Not even the government dared to cough at the recent director of the company, who could roam freely in a confined country. In mid-April, Ruslan Concepción and his family celebrated the success of the leading digital asset firm in the country at the majestic Hotel Nacional in Havana. On the Facebook profile of his brother, Wilhems Concepción, you can still see the photos of those happy days, in which the crypto asset manager grew unstoppably, exceeding 230,000 affiliates within the island. Ruslan and his family had bypassed all restrictions to travel from Las Tunas – his hometown – to Havana and enjoy their vacations at the exclusive hotel. “Most people spend 30 or 40 years of their life working WITHOUT REALLY GETTING ANYTHING. […] #EVOLUCIONA we are passing through this land, do not leave your dreams for later, do it HERE AND NOW”, still says a publication by Ruslan of the last April 10. Two days before he had given an account of the “dreams come true” by various members of the company, who had acquired cars and motorcycles, and the support of two popular Cuban singers who in a promotional video invited “come with us (sic)”. But even the best dreams are over. On April 22, Ruslan was arrested at the airport trying to travel to Russia with his family. This is the story of the man and the opaque company that has led many to wonder if all of Cuba is perhaps not involved in a pyramid scheme.

A story of success?

A week later, when the case was made public, his brothers argued that the accusation pointed to the probable illicit origin of the money he was carrying. Little more. To date, it is not even known with certainty where Ruslan is or under what charges he is being investigated. “The only certain thing is that in his house and in those of several of his friends they made tremendous searches and carried many things. Even his car, which he had left in a friend’s garage, they took away”, says Maikel, also a resident of the city of Las Tunas, who was about to join the company “when this exploded.” “Other people,” Maikel continues, “were not so lucky. Media Tunas has put their money in Trust Investing and it is logical that the town is in turmoil. Those who went to the Government the other day to demand explanations are only a small group compared to the thousands. that right now they don’t know if they lost the investment. ” An article on the subject, published on May 3 by ‘Cubadebate’, the main digital magazine of the Cuban government, surpassed 2,000 comments in a few hours, 10 times more than any of its other most popular articles. “I sold my house and my wife also, I sold a car that belonged to my grandfather and we put everything in ‘trust’ [sic] we are rented with the promise that in 10 months we would have double, and it turns out that now our accounts’ trust ‘They are frozen and we cannot even extract the money,’ lamented one of the readers.

In parallel with the arrest of Ruslan Concepción and several of his collaborators, at the beginning of May Trust Investing decided to intervene all the accounts of Cuban investors, under the pretext of having found “irregularities in balances and other operations.” This situation was not, however, addressed by the company directors during the conference for the second anniversary of the company, on May 9, despite the fact that the island’s ‘trusters’ represent more than a quarter of the total number of its affiliates.

A company in the shadows

“The Cuban State does not promote or approve the operation of this type of ‘companies’. None of them has a license to operate within the national territory, [their] operation is similar to what is known as Multilevel or Pyramid Scams, also called Schemes of Ponzi, [the public is] advised not to engage in operations of this nature. ” On May 13, the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) issued a statement in which it fixed Havana’s position after two weeks in which the social networks linked to Trust Investing had entered a state of convulsion. But the official statement did not seek to clarify the doubts of the company’s local investors, but rather to respond to the threat made by the TI directive four days earlier: “We make ourselves available to the Cuban authorities in case they need any documentation. But we also warn If something happens to our boys, you are going to have 800,000 people against your Government, “Fabiano Lorite de Lima, the manager of Marketing Director, declared during the anniversary conference.

Clearly, his ultimatum did not sit well in the Palace of the Revolution. Just 24 hours later, the Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, referred to the matter, assuring that speculation with crypto assets was studied with caution by the country’s leadership (“its procedures could be a motive for fraud,” he went on to affirm), and the Interior Ministry expanded the scope of searches and arrests of company leaders. By Thursday, when the Central Bank released its note, it was decided to put aside the conventions and mention Trust Investing by name, within the list of companies that the authorities consider potentially dangerous. As the days go by, and in the face of the persistent blocking of their accounts, numerous Cuban trusters have begun to wonder if the company actually deceived them. Reasons are not lacking. With a stratospheric profit margin (200% within 10 months) and hardly any data from its board of directors (only the names of its leaders are known, the Brazilians Diego Chaves, Lorite de Lima and Claudio Barbosa, apparently domiciled in Spain ), Trust Investing is a big unknown. Starting with its legal registration, which in the past the company suggested that it could be found in Spain or Panama.

However, in June 2020 both countries explicitly denied having authorized the firm to provide investment, securities brokerage or advisory services. The National Securities Market Commission of Spain included the company in its list of “entities warned”, and the Superintendency of the Stock Market of Panama (SMV) considered it necessary to prevent “the public [since] that the website of the said company reflects physical addresses in Panama City [… and] it is not registered in the Public Registry, and it is not and has not been the holder of a license or registration issued by the SMV “. Since then, Trust Investing would have moved to Estonia, as recorded in several of its promotional videos and the statements of its CEO, Diego Chaves. The “open legal structure of Estonia, one of the most developed countries in Blockchain technology”, is presented as a guarantee of the reliability of Truster Coins, the “digital wallet” that the company intends to incorporate into its business scheme. The registration of companies in the former Soviet republic is a practice that has gained popularity in recent years, this newspaper explained months ago in an article co-authored with LABE Abogados. Using the figure of the “electronic residence”, natural and legal persons from other countries can establish their companies there, without even having to travel to Tallinn. The decision to settle in Estonia would be based on the interest to take advantage of the tax advantages of the local legislation. Or be an attempt to make the company’s fabric more complex, in anticipation of possible conflicts with its investors. In the middle of last year, the forensic financial analysis firm Tulip Research warned that the profits promised by Trust Investing did not correspond to the indices of a profitable company, that it did not have a specific product and that the reference bank that it named as an associate did not exists. Neither on the TI page, nor in its posts and videos, are details given about the ‘trading’ business it claims to do. Nor did the executive director respond when contacted for this report through his Facebook profile.

But Trust Investing continues to advertise so-called personal success stories to announce more ambitious projects. “In 2023 or 2024, when we reach the limit of our affiliates, we will have other products so that we can work,” Chaves anticipated in a recent broadcast. The office, however, did not look like that of a company that handles millions of dollars in competitive investment markets, but rather the living room of a house with little natural light. The newly appointed national director of the company wanted to take the opportunity to meet with his followers in meetings with little or no social distancing. While a few hundred meters from there, the police and health authorities demanded the use of masks and applied heavy fines to those who did not do so, inside the hotel facility the “Trust Investing family” celebrated its success without being disturbed.