The trial of 48 defendants in the notorious "Çiftlik Bank" case opened Friday in Istanbul.
Defendants, including Mehmet Aydın, the fugitive founder of the Ponzi scheme, face prison terms up to thousands of years for defrauding 3,762 people, all plaintiffs in the trial whose first hearing will take six days. It is believed that there are more victims of Çiftlik Bank (Farm Bank), but many chose not to file complaints.
Çiftlik Bank was an online virtual farming simulator, developed by 26-year-old Aydın, whose past jobs included washing dishes and an amateur musician. It offered users investing real cash a generous return for their money. The company's advertisements were ubiquitous online, in newspapers and Aydın, accompanied by a famous actor and some local officials went on to star in a TV advertisement showing what he did with real money people invested: Sprawling farms in two cities.
However, when authorities became suspicious, Çiftlik Bank stopped payments and Aydın disappeared. Some of the executives of his companies and his wife were detained, while Aydın was spotted in Uruguay driving a Ferrari, in a display of his rags-to-riches image. He and his brother Fatih Aydın, along with two other suspects, remain at large. Prosecutors also say in the indictment that they sent extradition requests to Brazil, Uruguay, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the U.S. for fugitive suspects, who are believed to be hiding in those countries. According to prosecutors, Çiftlik Bank collected more than TL 1.1 billion in months after it was launched in 2016 and paid back more than TL 687.8 million, though they were supposed to pay more than TL 2.9 billion to investors.