Bitcoin Alternative LEOCoin Linked to Suspected Pyramid Scheme
UPDATE 5th April 17:30 UTC: LEOCoin representatives indicate that LEO founders Dan Anderson and Atif Kamran have denied taking part in any wrongdoing for their involvement at UNAICO. A formal statement on their association with the group can be found here.
The latest bitcoin alternative to garner media attention, LEOCoin has so far trumpeted the more than 130,000 merchants that have allegedly signed on to accept it as payment.
This claim, the headlines assert, suggests that LEOCoin is quickly gathering interest from an international community. However, representatives of the project have for more than a week been unwilling to provide support for these statements.
Despite requests, LEOCoin has not provided a list of merchant partners or a white paper detailing the specifications of its “revolutionary” cryptocurrency. The silence on the matter takes on a new light when examining the history of project founders Dan Anderson and Atif Kamran.
Both Anderson (sometimes spelled as "Andersson") and Kamran were involved in a suspected pyramid scheme, UNAICO Pakistan, an “IT development and consulting business” that was the subject of a formal warning by the Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) in 2012.
An official statement from SECP dated 27th April, 2012 names Dan Andersson as UNAICO’s CEO, an association confirmed by YouTube videos that feature UNAICO branding, advertise opportunities in Pakistan and include appearances by Andersson and Kamran.
SECP executive director Nazir Ahmed Shaheen wrote:
”I have closely observed the business activity of the company and noticed that the activities of the company broadly falls within the definition of 'fraudulent activities'.”
Kamran was further implicated in the business operation by his association with the social community SiteTalk, described as a “sister concern” of UNAICO in the formal complaint.
The SECP filing goes on to compare the UNAICO system to a pyramid scheme, an investment scheme by which participants are encouraged to enroll new members for monetary rewards. Language on the LEOCoin website suggests a similar system, whereby members are rewarded for “recommending LEOCoin to merchants”.
The company is also creating its own LEOCoin exchange, where users can trade it for fiat currency, as well as a point-of-sale device. Anderson also suggests that LEO will be used to incentivize the promotion of its other products and services.
"You can participate in LEO, and one of the things we do for people who get involved in representing our products and helping us market our products is we give them awards for hitting certain sales targets," Anderson states.
In an accompanying video, Anderson sums up what he views as the potential of LEOCoin over alternatives, stating:
“If you missed the microwave, if you missed the mobile phone, if you missed e-commerce, if you missed m-commerce, don’t miss LEOCoin.”
As alluded to in an introductory video, LEOCoin is just part of the larger Learning Enterprise Organisation (LEO) suite of services and products, of which Andersson is CEO and president and Kamran is general marketing director.
Based in the UK, LEO operates a number of websites for its different operations and projects, including WelcomeToLeo.com, which frames the group as one that is focused on “e-learning, e-tutoring, live seminars and technology products platforms”.
“The gap between rich and poor has never been so large. LEO’s products are positioned right in this gap and fill it for you to become more successful, by learning what successful entrepreneurs know, and manifesting that in tangible terms,” the official website reads.
LEO members are encouraged to earn “bonus points” by signing up new members, which business presentations suggest are then redeemable for luxury items.
Those who rise to the rank of “director” at the company, are then said to be eligible to have £100,000 invested in their business idea.
An example of LEO's commission structure and rewards programs can be found here.
A website for the Germany-based LEO Tower AG advertises that LEO members have the ability to purchase pre-shares in exotic properties, awarded based on sales. Here, the website highlights Andersson’s involvement as CEO as well as Kamran’s role on its advisory board.
Properties include LEO Tower, a proposed construction in Dubai; LEO Village, a development in Portugal said to have started development in 2013; and LEO Haciendas, “heavily discounted luxury properties” in Menorca sold at “30% below bank valuations”.
Describing the project as a series of “themed villages, built around lifestyle”, the goal, according to the company, is to create “an international community of entrepreneurs”.
The LEO Village website indicates the company aims to support customers with assistance on legal forms, bank transfers and the visa application process to complete the purchase of real estate at “30% below market value”.
LEOCoin’s big debut
Though it garnered the most attention for its recent “UK launch”, LEOCoin seems to have first appeared in Dubai in June 2014 under the auspices of a stealth startup known as “Project X”.
Unlike many cryptocurrencies, which often begin with an innocuous post on Bitcoin Talk LEOCoin had an unusually audacious debut, gathering 400 attendees for its launch at a hotel that video suggests included a particularly raucous party.
Described on MyLeoBusiness as the “final piece of the LEO puzzle”, LEOCoin promises anonymity and security that are “nothing short of revolutionary”.
"We studied bitcoin, saw its strengths and weaknesses, and launched LEOCoin on the shoulders of its achievements, while improving on just about every aspect of it," Andersson said, before elaborating on the projects value propositions that include “complete anonymity” and “state-of-the-art security”.
Despite its strong marketing, LEOCoin is described on its official GitHub as a “Scrypt-Jane, proof of work” coin, an approach also used by ultracoin and cachecoin. In total, the complainy states, 1bn LEOcoins are set to be mined, with 50m LEO initially set aside for the company.
A LinkedIn account for Kamran is particularly light on details, listing only his experience as “global marketing director” of LEO and an education status which lists an “in progress” MBA from Brunel University London.
Unmentioned is Kamran’s involvement as senior director of UNAICO, though YouTube videos from UNAICO and SiteTalk illustrate Kamran’s involvement in the group as well as SiteTalk’s affiliation with UNAICO. Kamran is not named in the SECP filing, though it reveals Dan Andersson is listed as the group’s CEO.
Reports by Pakistan Today, however, show Kamran was placed on an Exit Control List (ECL) in Pakistan for his involvement with the firm.
The SECP warning includes only mention that the company was conducting “training programs tilted ‘Oxford Program (Secret Code)’. Ultimately, the SECP called for the “winding up” of the group due to its concerns.
The official UNAICO Facebook page indicates that by 1st September, the group had started “the process of liquidation” and that it had closed offices in Islamabad.
Commenting on the company’s claims, William Keep, dean of the business school at the College of New Jersey and an expert witness in the prosecution of pyramid schemes indicated that there were some aspects of LEO that were potentially cause for concerns.
Still, while he said no materials suggest LEOCoin has promised specific compensation plans, the company’s statements raise questions about its business model.
“The most bothersome aspects of the LEO program combine messages of: a) almost unlimited opportunity, b) anyone can be successful, c) indirect (and unverifiable) endorsements, d) rewards derived by recruiting others, and e) personal financial freedom within reach,” Keep told CoinDesk.
In particular, Keep emphasized that LEO and LEOCoin have encouraged a model that “appears to strongly emphasize recruitment”.
“The presence of multi-generation income and the recognition of an upline (and therefore a downline) without many specific in terms of the process raises some concerns,” Keep concluded.
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