Police investigating an investment scam in Sudan's Darfur region have collected bounced cheques and receipts for up to $27 million and arrested 58 people, the justice minister said on Wednesday.
Thousand of investors have lost money in a pyramid-style "Ponzi scheme" which collapsed earlier this year, U.N. officials and residents told Reuters.
At least three people died after investors took to the streets of the capital of North Darfur state, El Fasher, on Sunday to demand their money back and clashed with security forces.
Justice minister Abdel Basit Sabderat said police were hunting for missing assets across Darfur and beyond and working through about 3,700 complaints from investors.
The statement from a senior minister underlined how seriously Khartoum is taking the unrest following the collapse of El Fasher's "El Mawasir" market -- the nickname for the scam using a local term for pipes which is slang for a swindle.
Protesters have accused the North Darfur government of going back on promises to repay the money and have alleged links between the "El Mawasir" managers and government officials.
Any collapse of order in El Fasher would be a blow to the government which has used the city as a military and legislative base during the seven year Darfur conflict.
El Fasher authorities ordered a curfew from 11.30pm on Tuesday to 3pm on Wednesday, to stop "infiltrators" creating chaos in the state, according to state news agency Suna.
Sabderat said the scheme was started by two police officers in March 2009 who went on to win seats in North Darfur's state assembly in last month's national elections, standing as candidates for the north's dominant National Congress Party.
The two men had since been arrested, alongside 56 other people, and police had already frozen one of their bank accounts containing six million Sudanese pounds, he said
Officers had collected "bounced checks totalling 28 million Sudanese pounds and receipts for 32 million (together just under $27 million)," and also found more than 100 vehicles, including Hummers, linked to the operation, said the minister.
El Fasher residents said the men had taken cash and goods from investors and promised to repay them with large returns and above-market prices after a period of time. The men gave investors receipts or post-dated cheques as a guarantee for their future earnings, residents said.
Sabderat said the first complaints came in when cheques started to bounce in March.
ReutersLast Mod: 05 Mayıs 2010, 22:59