Thirteen years ago Israeli businessman Guy Grinberg was a high-tech hero. The social networking startup he co-founded, Koolanoo, was featured in interviews on CNBC and Bloomberg.
His company was praised in the 2009 book “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” as an example of Israeli entrepreneurial aplomb.
“China’s third-largest social-networking Web site, which services twenty-five million of the country’s young Web surfers, is actually an Israeli start-up called Koolanoo, which means ‘all of us’ in Hebrew,” the book said.
But on Wednesday October 6, Grinberg was brought to Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court for a remand hearing, following his arrest by Israeli police at the behest of the FBI. According to an October 6 statement by Israeli police, Grinberg is a suspect in alleged massive fraud and money-laundering offenses related to digital forex trading.
In a joint covert operation with the FBI, the Israel Police arrested 26 people overnight Tuesday-Wednesday in Tel Aviv on suspicion of involvement.
Only two of these suspects have been named in court filings submitted prior to their remand hearings. These are Grinberg, 47 and Snir Moshe Hananya, 33.
The police statement said the alleged cryptocurrency crimes involved victims abroad and amounted to tens of millions of shekels. The arrests were part of a coordinated simultaneous operation by a number of law enforcement agencies around the globe to detain those suspected of financial crimes, police said, without giving further details on other locations.
A spokeswoman for the FBI confirmed to The Times of Israel that the FBI is working on an ongoing investigation with the Israel Police as well as the National Police of Ukraine.
Guy Grinberg’s LinkedIn profile describes him as the “vice president of business development” for an unnamed forex company. A recent post reads “Looking for live crypto CFD leads!” meaning that he was looking for contact information of potential investors in online cryptocurrency and CFD products.
From 2012-2014, Grinberg worked for Mobli, entrepreneur Moshe Hogeg’s ill-fated social networking startup, according to his profile.
From 1996 to 2003, according to Grinberg’s LinkedIn profile, he worked as an “assistant manager” at Camden Market Properties and Holding, which was founded by Bebo Kobo, an Israeli-Bulgarian businessman and the father of Grinberg’s partner in Koolanoo O.D. (Oded) Kobo. In 2014 Bebo Kobo sold a large swathe of Camden Market to Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi. According to Kobo, however, he never had any business, commercial, employment or other relationship with Grinberg.
According to Channel 12 news, most of those arrested have claimed no knowledge of any fraud. The company they worked for was said to have attracted workers with promises of high salaries for those who were committed to working hard.
Israel has been a major hub of online investment scams, which also operate from Cyprus and throughout Eastern Europe.
When the binary options industry was outlawed via Knesset legislation in October 2017, largely as a result of investigative reporting by The Times of Israel that began with a March 2016 article entitled “The wolves of Tel Aviv,” some scammers shifted to schemes involving forex trading or cryptocurrency speculation.
Israeli law enforcement officials have prosecuted almost no online investment fraudsters, despite the fact that the industry has employed thousands of Israelis who have defrauded billions of dollars from victims worldwide.