November 20, 2008 / 3:55 PM / 10 years ago

Panama captures boss of Colombian financial scheme

BOGOTA, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Panama captured and extradited the accused boss of a Colombian financial pyramid scheme that threatens investors with millions of dollars in losses, Colombian police said on Thursday.

The scheme is one of several in a growing financial scandal that has sparked riots as mostly poor investors try to recover their savings and analysts warn about the impact on Colombia’s already slowing economy.

David Murcia, head of financial agency DMG, was caught in Panama as he tried to flee into Costa Rica. He was extradited to Colombia, where he and his directors face charges including money laundering and other financial crimes, police said.

“After such a massive fraud against thousands of our countrymen, this is a man who is a risk and we will keep him under very tight security,” national police commander Gen. Oscar Naranjo told local radio.

President Alvaro Uribe’s government has said it will help victims recover their losses and has declared a state of emergency over the crisis.

Thousands have lost their savings on scams that promised high interest rates, real estate deals and debit cards to buy consumer goods.

Authorities are probing possible links between the finance agencies and Colombia’s multibillion-dollar cocaine trade.

An attorney for DMG has said the company’s managers were innocent and were ready to cooperate with the investigation.

Thousands of DMG depositors took to the streets this week to protest a decision by Uribe to shut the stores.

At least two people were killed in riots last week when the bosses of other companies, which had promised up to 150 percent interest, started shutting their doors and disappearing with cash.

Reporting by Patrick Markey; Editing by Eric Beech

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