Cops bust HIV/Aids pyramid scheme

South African authorities bust a pyramid investment scheme involving a company offering HIV/Aids treatments.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced the police action in a budget vote speech to parliament, and Revenue Service spokesman Adrian Lackay said executives at an unnamed firm allegedly misappropriated 100 million rand ($13.5 million) invested in an "immune booster pack for HIV/Aids sufferers".

SA has the world's largest Aids treatment programme, and there are plans to double that with a $960 million scheme to increase access to anti-Aids drugs to 80% of sufferers by 2013.

Authorities did not disclose the name of the company but said it was listed on Johannesburg's alternative investment market.

In a pyramid scheme, new clients are recruited to pay money and to recruit ever more clients to sustain itself.

Police and tax inspectors raided premises in Durban and Pretoria and arrests were expected to be made, Lackay said, adding that the company and individuals would not be identified until they were formally charged.

Sars raided offices

"We will not disclose the name of the company until formal charges are brought before a court of law," said Lackay.

Imuniti, whose website describes itself as a pharmaceutical and natural medicines maker, said South African Revenue Service (Sars) inspectors had searched its Durban offices but denied police had been present.

"The subject of the investigation is not Imuniti or any of its subsidiaries or any of its directors," acting Chief Executive Neil Lamble said.

"It's certain other parties that the investigation is in respect of and we are cooperating with SARS fully in their investigation. A team from SARS did arrive at the offices this morning to conduct an investigation," Lamble said. "I can confirm it was not the police." - (Reuters Health, May 2010)

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