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What's next in €645 million JuicyFields cannabis scam?

Andreas Becker | Nicolas Martin
April 18, 2024

In an international sting operation, police have arrested several suspects in the JuicyFields medical cannabis investment scam. The company started in Berlin — and was the subject of DW's Cannabis Cowboys podcast series.

JuicyFields logo
JuicyFields turned out to be a Ponzi scheme that robbed nearly 200,000 investors Image: Juicy Fields

In July 2022, thousands of people who had invested money in juicyfields.io, an internet platform advertising profitable investments in medical cannabis, suddenly couldn't access their accounts anymore.

The damage was significant. According to recent estimates published by Europol, around 186,000 investors had deposited a total of €645 million ($688 million) with JuicyFields.

After July 2022, the case looked like a classic exit scam. From one day to the next, JuicyFields deleted its social media accounts, and its management and representatives disappeared.

More than 400 police officers

Now, one year and nine months later, police have taken action in a major international sting operation.

"On an action day carried out on April 11, 2024, over 400 law enforcement officers in 11 countries executed 9 arrest warrants and conducted 38 house searches," said Europol.

The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation coordinated the operation.

Law enforcement from Spain, Germany, and France led the investigation into the scam. According to Europol, 28 more countries were involved in some form, including the United States and the Dominican Republic.

From Germany alone, 264 officers took part in the raids. "It was definitely one of our bigger operations," Karen Häußer, spokesperson for the prosecutor's office in Berlin, told DW.

"There were lots of people from different areas of law enforcement — criminal investigators, customs officials, special forces — and the whole thing was coordinated internationally. It was a major undertaking."

Arrests in Sweden with more to come

A few days after the operation, police continued to make arrests. On Monday, April 15, a Swedish woman and her boyfriend were arrested at Stockholm's Arlanda airport on orders from Europol and Spanish police. A prosecutor told Swedish broadcaster TV4 that both are to be extradited to Spain.

A spokesperson for Spain's Policía Nacional told DW that a further 8 arrest warrants against suspects in the JuicyFields case are ready to be executed.

He also said Spanish authorities are confident that a Russian national who was arrested in the Dominican Republic last Thursday will soon be extradited to Spain.

Europol says the Russian is "suspected to be one of the main organizers of the fraudulent scheme."

In early 2023, a whistleblower had told DW that the JuicyFields scam had been orchestrated by a man from St. Petersburg who was now "traveling in the Caribbean," where he had "bought houses and land."

The prosecutor's office in Berlin confirmed that "the Russian lead," as it was described in the Cannabis Cowboys podcast, was still hot. "We continue to assume that the operation was controlled from within Russia," spokesperson Karen Häußer told DW.

Two Lamborghinis parked at the ICBC in Barcelona
Flashy promotion: sports cars with the JuicyFields logo park outside the venue of the ICBC cannabis conference in Barcelona in March 2022Image: DW

Who is who?

Neither Europol nor national police have released the names of the arrested suspects. But in some cases, they did mention details, such as age, nationality, or function in the JuicyFields network.

Based on that information and tips from sources who wish to remain anonymous, DW was able to figure out who is who. Most of the arrested suspects feature prominently in the Cannabis Cowboys podcast.

Action Day - who was arrested?

The eight-part podcast series was released in early 2023. Research for the podcast had begun more than a year earlier when JuicyFields was still up and running.

The company sponsored major cannabis-related events such as industry fairs and conferences, including the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC). In addition, it was active on social media, where it advertised its business model, often with the help of influencers.

JuicyFields started in early 2020 as a small company based in Berlin and later opened offices in Amsterdam and near Zurich, Switzerland.

They promised investors huge profits by investing in medicinal cannabis, which is legal in Germany and many other countries in Europe.

JuicyFields' pyramid scheme

Investors could buy "virtual plants" for as little as €50. JuicyFields promised that for each virtual plant, a real cannabis plant was grown in one of their partner plantations. The company also said they would take care of harvesting, packaging, and selling the cannabis and share the profits with their investors.

Screenshot Juicy Fields
Screenshot of the juicyfields.io website promoting investment in "virtual" cannabis plantsImage: Screenshot Juicy Fields

While investors initially received annualized payouts of more than 100%, DW's investigation for the podcast revealed that JuicyFields never had the necessary licenses and never grew and sold medicinal cannabis.

According to DW's findings, JuicyFields' business model was a Ponzi or pyramid scheme, where payouts are made with money invested by new clients, while there is no actual product.

Not much hope for the victims

During last week's international operation, police also seized or froze assets in bank accounts, cash or cryptocurrency, as well as artworks, cars, and real estate. According to Europol, the total value was under €10 million.

Since the scam was exposed in July 2022, JuicyFields' units in Berlin and Amsterdam have filed for bankruptcy. In the process, only a few million euros could be seized, insiders said — not nearly enough to pay back all victims.

The full podcast series Cannabis Cowboys can be found here at DW and major podcast platforms.

Edited by: Ashutosh Pandey

Becker Andreas Kommentarbild App
Andreas Becker Business editor with a focus on world trade, monetary policy and globalization.