As you’ve probably seen on your filters, Escala (ESCL) has been crashing for the past few consecutive days. The shares gapped down hard on Tuesday and continued to sell off the Spanish authorities raided the offices of Afinsa and shut them down by declaring them insolvent.
The anti-corruption prosecutor has arrested 9 owners/executives of Afinsa. It seems that the Barron’s expose from last year didn’t even scratch the surface. It now appears that, since 1998, Afinsa had been running one of the biggest ponzi schemes ever right under the noses of the authorities.
The company, through its website and a press release, is denying everything of course. I found this section of their FAQ especially hilarious :
¿Los clientes podrán recuperar su dinero?
El dinero de los clientes de Afinsa está tan seguro hoy como ayer.
Will the clients recover their money?
The money of Afinsa’s clients is as safe today as it was yesterday
Before this is over, we’re going to have a great epic story - maybe not quite as epic as say, Enron - but already we have such surreal elements as billions of missing funds, confiscated Lambourghinis and Ferrarris, freshly plastered wall in the house of an executive that unsuccessfully tried to hide 10 million Euros, thousands of bilked investors and one red faced regulatory authority that let this spiral out of control.
The story is still coming out but what they think was happening was that Afinsa would buy either normal real stamps or counterfeit stamps and then sell them at an enourmous markup to their investors. Then they would take part of the money and pay the older investors their 10% p.a. promised return. A classic ponzi scheme that required more and more suckers to keep going and finally unravelled under its own weight.
The unwashed masses, meanwhile, are getting mixed messages about their fate. The Bank of Spain and the securities regulatory authority are saying that there will be no restitution since this sort of investment is not covered under the generous government insurance scheme protecting the financial sector in Spain. But, ever mindful of the wrath of voters, Zapatero has pledged to not leave thousands of people helpless.
So it turns out that I was (partly) wrong and the shorts and Barron’s were vindicated to a degree they themselves perhaps couldn’t begin to imagine. There is no question that with such a huge short position, someone made out like bandits. I checked but unfortunately no shares were available to be borrowed (from IB).
The lesson I take away from this is that a) a situation can be rotten to the core and still float higher based on pure ignorance and b) the Spanish population is astonishingly gullible and ignorant when it comes to any financial matters.
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