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Police in the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States have arrested members of a gang suspected of cheating investors out of 645 million euros ($686 million) through a fake medicinal cannabis operation.

Investigators believe the gang attracted victims at international cannabis fairs before taking some to see legal cannabis-growing operations and wooing them with luxury cars and parties in hotels.

Law enforcement officers from Spain and the European Union's Europol agency led the probe.

Silvia Garrido, a spokeswoman for Spain's national police service, Cuerpo Nacional de Policia, said investors from 35 countries thought they had bought into a medicinal marijuana-growing operation named JuicyFields.

"The business model offered by this organization consisted of using the capital transferred from investors to develop partnerships to finance the cultivation of cannabis plants," Reuters quoted Garrido as saying. "With this system, they promised victims profits of between 70 percent and 168 percent per year, depending on the species of cannabis in which they invested."

Garrido said nine suspected fraudsters were detained following the raids, which involved around 400 police officers.

Reuters said investigators also seized property worth 2.6 billion euros and cash totaling around 106,000 euros in the raids. They also blocked bank accounts and crypto currency accounts containing around 180,000 euros.

Police in Spain announced the arrests and the apparent breakup of the operation on Saturday, in a post on the social media site X.

The United Kingdom's National Crime Agency, or NCA, took part in the raids and said the alleged fraud was believed to have been "a notorious and elaborate Ponzi fraud scheme", named after Italian businessman Charles Ponzi, which pertains to scams that use profits obtained from earlier victims to lure in new ones.

The NCA told the Press Association that as many as 180,000 people may have invested in the fake cannabis-growing operation.

The NCA said a 42-year-old man from the UK was among those who have been arrested and is awaiting likely extradition.

Europol added in a statement: "According to judicial estimates, the total damages resulting from fake investments in the advertised cannabis cultivation crowd-sourcing platform amount to a staggering 645 million euros."

But it said the actual amount of money involved "could be significantly higher".

Europol said investors were invited to contribute as little as 50 euros, to purchase a solitary cannabis plant through the online platform. But the agency said early investors who were given payouts amounting to a 100 percent return on investment encouraged others to take part.

"Motivated by these financial gains, many investors would raise the stakes and pay in hundreds, thousands, or in many cases even tens of thousands of euros," Europol added.

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