Those who have been following the tale of Juicy Fields, the largest scam to occur in the European cannabis industry so far, are about to get some surprises as the first-class action case takes a new twist
Lars Olofsson and his team of “legal outlaws” as they have begun to describe themselves, have made significant headway this quarter in prosecuting what they feel is the first big bellwether class action case in the Juicy Fields scam, and on which they will base forthcoming legal strategy as they begin to focus on what comes next.
For those unfamiliar with the now imploded scam, Juicy Fields was a supposed “cannabis e-growing” platform that purported to allow retail investors to profit from an exploding medical cannabis industry in Germany and Europe beyond that. After it went bust in July 2022, it emerged that the firm was nothing but a Ponzi scheme. There were no plants, no production contracts and despite paper deals, no signed distributors who ever brought anything into the country. Despite this, the slick marketing effort deployed by Juicy Fields, both online across social media platforms and at cannabis conferences drew in tens of thousands of gullible investors in countries all over the world.
Olofsson estimates that there were about 125,000 legitimate investors with losses north of 2.5 billion euros globally in the period Juicy Fields was in operation (just over two years).
Beyond the already bizarre particulars of the fraud itself, the case has taken additional strange twists and turns, which so far Olofsson has been right about predicting since he became involved in litigation against not the company itself, but a large ring of entities that allowed the scam to be perpetuated in the first place.
The Swedish lawyer has now gathered a huge amount of evidence, from multiple sources, but intended from the start to use the particularities of Swedish law to forward the “low hanging fruit” as he jokingly has nicknamed his first case against American social media firm Meta as the kick-off match.
“While yes, Mark Zuckerberg is one of the wealthiest and most powerful people on the planet, thanks to the peculiarities of Swedish law, he now has to show up in court in Sweden,” Olofsson said. “Indeed, under Swedish law and precedent, the first case, launched in Lulea Sweden last December, home to Meta servers that connect over 1 billion Facebook users in Europe and beyond, is fairly shut and dried once you remove the technology terms and the particulars of social media.”
Namely, Meta allowed Juicy Fields facilitators and influencers to buy advertising on the network via Facebook and Instagram, to convince new investors to enter the scam. These efforts always included a variety of promises and claims that certainly in retrospect sound foolish if not outlandish, even to those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the international cannabis industry. Or even basic corporate and financial compliance.
As Olofsson has also taken to pointing out recently, this case is impactful, far beyond cannabis just because of the scope of the reach of Meta into just everyday Swedish lives. “According to data from the company itself, the majority of Swedes come into contact with at least one social media platform, at least once a day. Yet this is almost completely unregulated territory. The numbers of consumers who interact with social media are not much different internationally, no matter what country you look at. When it comes to stopping online scams, this is still very much wild west territory.
Olofsson’s case is also very easy to understand. Not only did the media platform violate its own internal policy in allowing an unverified investment, let alone cannabis company to advertise on their network (in North America this is strictly banned), but also specifically, Swedish and European law when it comes to the perpetuation of scams and liability for the same – even if “unintentional.”
The case, initially launched in Swedish regional court has now been transferred to the national or so called “Crown Court” level. Meta is now required to respond. If they do not, the case will either be prosecuted at the federal level or, given the issues at stake, potentially be escalated again to the Supreme Court. It is not going to get quietly dropped at this point.
And that, concurs Olofsson with a satisfied grin, is a very important development, no matter what happens next.
In the meantime, as the courts process the legal details in the Meta case, the litigation team is hard at work putting the next cases together. On the social media side, Meta is far from the only large alleged perp. Instagram is included by default and corporate ownership in the first suit. Google is the other big social media network on Olofsson’s list.
Certainly in his favour is that neither firm is a stranger to large fines in Europe at this point – ranging from privacy violations to tax evasion cases with fines in the tens of millions of euros.
Beyond social media, the next group of entities on the team’s litigation list include at least 70 banks – all of which transferred money, thousands of times over two years, to a strange bank in Cyprus, itself teetering on the edge of insolvency after being delisted in Australia shortly before the scam began.
The thousands of bank transfers Olafsson now has, are evidence of a systematic failure of internal operations, at multiple banks, that are set up both under international and sovereign law to stop precisely what happened in the Juicy Fields case. Namely there appears to be a systematic flaw in bank security that allowed literally tens of thousands of suspicious money transfers, even flagged with SARS (suspicious activity reports) and over 10,000 euros an order to be transferred between investors and the Juicy Fields bank in Cyprus. This was true even with manual review by bank staff members in many, many cases.
One of the most compelling aspects of this part of the case is that the Juicy Fields financial partners in Cyprus, ISX bank, was not only delisted in Australia before setting up shop in this known haven of money laundering, but they also owned a widely deployed and used bank compliance software, leading Olofsson to question whether the masterminds behind the scam knew this as they set up the scheme. This alone, if true, would also generate huge fines in damages but also require the banks involved to completely reconfigure if not replace large segments of their internal operating software as well as internal personnel procedures.
Beyond that, there are the smaller companies and individuals who went along for the ride. They are “small fish” as Olofsson says, but they are still on his list of perps he wants to pursue. Many of them are well-known figures in the European cannabis industry, but there are others, including those from the world of crypto and business more generally.
Olofsson and his team, as well as the reporters behind the Deutsche Welle true crime podcast series on the imploding scam called “Cannabis Cowboys” have now all received threats about proceeding with any further investigations, prosecutions or critical media from lawyers concerning parties named in the series or Olofsson in the media more generally.
Beyond this, as of March, both the litigation team and the German podcast journalists received a customized digital invite via email, sent via an “anonymous” address, naming no guest hosts, names, addresses, or locations involved, to tour a supposed new cultivation grow in South Africa. Strange as it may seem, despite the obvious problems with the same, there is now a “splinter group” connected with the fraud called “Juicy Fields DAO (decentralized, anonymous organization) which is still trying to persuade scammed investors that they will get their money back.
Neither Olofsson’s team or the DW journalists decided to take the organization up on their offer. “Traveling to another continent, let alone foreign country, no matter where it is located, to be put up by “ghost hosts” with a previous track record that is dubious to say the least, not to mention what they are saying now, is not an appealing proposition,” said Nina Jansdotter, Olofsson’s business partner for over seven years.
Legal Lone Wolves or Beginning of New Trend of Public Policy Class Actions?
Talk to Olofsson for any length of time and one of the first people he mentions as an inspiration is Ralph Nader, the American maverick attorney and consumer rights advocate who took on the American car companies starting during the late 1950’s and carried on aggressively for the next thirty odd years. In the process, “Nader’s Raiders” as they came to be called, and the coalition of non-profit legal, advocacy and lobbying groups created in their wake inspired a literal cottage industry of consumer focussed organizations between the late sixties and early 1980’s unafraid to use legal, organizing, lobbying and campaign savvy to put consumer safety first – and in many industries far from cars.
“As we enter the third decade of a new century, we desperately need new kinds of public interest entities,” Olofsson says. “For starters, social media companies are very much like the big American car companies of the middle part of the last century. They are impossible to interact with, which is a deliberate decision. They operate literally beyond the law. They think and act like they are untouchable, in part because they have operated in a world where American communications law was the only thing they feared. Now in Europe, there is gathering legal momentum, and on both a sovereign and European-wide basis, to hold these behemoths responsible for the harm they do. From tax avoidance to privacy violations and facilitating increasingly blatant fraud by failing to better police content and advertisers, Europeans are embracing digitalization but also seem to be in the process of setting rules of the road for social media generally that have been almost completely missing before.”
He does not need to add specifically that he hopes his work will inspire others to join him, and that the Juicy Fields case itself is a perfect embodiment of all he hopes to at least slow down if not stop completely.
A New Kind of Cannabis if Not Public Interest Advocacy
Olofsson at this point is not the only lawyer attached to his string of lawsuits. In the past several months, other lawyers and firms in Europe have joined in. It’s not like anybody wants to starve, but money is far from the main motivation of those directly involved. Beyond that, there is a team of researchers, publicists and of course activist investors who want their money back who have given Olofsson the evidence for the legal cases now launched and pending.
“I think the team that is coalescing around this case saw what Lars and I were doing and thought that this was the right time to do something if only speak out about fraud and corruption they either experienced directly or saw happening around them and were concerned,” said Jansdotter. “I also think that while we all want to win something for our clients, we are also motivated by a larger sense of justice, of fairness, of protecting consumers and the common space. Not to mention, of course, since we are all cannabis legalization advocates, we want to help create and support an industry that is less opaque and hazardous even for retail investors, but certainly of the institutional kind.”
Adds Olofsson, “It is overdue that someone launched a coordinated campaign on both the social media platforms that failed as well as the banks. It is imperative to make sure that smaller companies and individuals, particularly within the cannabis space, know that they are not invincible, that the law applies to them too, and that just because you work in cannabis doesn’t mean you can operate beyond every law.”
As of now, the team is making progress. Stay tuned. There is more to come, and soon.
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