Swedish national Roger Nils-Jonas Karlsson is facing up to 20 years in jail in the US after admitting defrauding 3,500-plus people of more than $16m (€13m).

It is alleged that he and his then company, Eastern Metal Securities (EMS), convinced their victims to send funds using virtual currencies including Bitcoin from November 2012 through to June 2019.

For a share priced less than $100, he promised investors a payout of 1.15 kg of gold, worth more than $45,000 at the start of 2019, the US attorney’s office in the northern district of California said in a statement.

“Karlsson admitted he had no way to pay off the investors. Instead, the funds provided by victims were transferred to Karlsson’s personal bank accounts and he then used proceeds to purchase expensive homes and a resort in Thailand,” the office added.

The US government also alleges he used a second website to host multiple posts to delay the moment investors would realise there would be no payout.

The government also claims Karlsson and EMS used deceptive ‘devices and contrivances’ to sell securities and then tried to conceal the proceeds of the wire fraud and securities fraud.

He was arrested in Thailand June 2019, extradited to the US, and the following month was indicted by a grand jury.  

Karlsson, 47, who used several aliases, has pleaded guilty to one count each of securities fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, the attorney’s office said. EMS has ceased to exist, it added.

“The internet has pioneered extraordinary opportunities for commerce,” said acting US attorney Stephanie Hinds. “Unfortunately, the same tools that have provided innovative methods of doing business also have provided fertile grounds for fraudsters to take advantage of the unwary.

“This case demonstrates that we will pursue fraudsters who seek to find their victims in the northern district of California, even if such criminals operate from outside the country.”  

Kelly Jackson, special agent in charge of criminal investigations at the Internal Revenue Service, said: “Karlsson’s admission … will hopefully provide some measure of justice for more the more than 3,500 victims he scammed and put them on a path to financial restoration.”

Karlsson faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for wire fraud and securities fraud, and 20 years and a $500,000 maximum for money laundering. However, any sentence following conviction depends on sentencing guidelines.

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