A 74-year-old woman is being tried in France for allegedly selling thousands of Chileans a kit that would let them produce “magic cheese” for the cosmetics industry,
the BBC reported.
The woman, Gilberte van Erpe, ran Fermex Chile, a company that allowed investors buy kits for around $US394 (350 euros). The kits contained filters and a powder that would ferment milk and produce a special cheese.
Madame Gile, as she’s nicknamed in France, promised buyers that they’d be able to make huge profits when selling their cheese back to French cosmetics companies for use in luxury beauty products.
Her alleged scam raked in over $US15 million (14 million euros) by convincing over 5,000 Chileans to invest in the company, which had about 20 branches around the country, according to AFP.
The first kits were given away for free, and investors were actually paid for their initial batches of cheese, convincing numerous people to invest huge amounts of money.
Many people mortgaged their houses, cashed in their savings, and sold their properties to be able to participate in the alleged pyramid scheme, which relied on initial investors who were promised gifts and money for signing up their friends and family.
Some also gave up their jobs to dedicate their time solely to cheese-making.
The alleged scam started in 2005 when van Erpe began organising huge conferences in Santiago, where she urged people to buy her wonder product. She apparently told potential costumers that companies such as L’Oréal would buy the cheese to use in whitening creams and other cosmetics products used by the likes of celebrities such as Michael Jackson.
As it turned out, the cheese never even left the country. It was found rotting in a warehouse.
Van Erpe’s trial started on Monday in Paris, where Chilean authorities are pursuing her since extradition to Chile wasn’t possible.