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Thousands of families left penniless as Benin pyramid scheme collapses

Hundreds of thousands of families have lost their whole life’s savings in an investment scheme run by a firm that apparently had the backing of Benin's president.

More than 130,000 people gave their savings to Investment Consultancy and Computering Services (ICC), the west African country’s government said in a statement last month. Together they lost more than £84million.

The business behind the scheme was listed as a non-profit computer service company, ICC and was trading illegally as a banking institution. It was forced to close in July and several of its staff were put in prison.

But the calamity’s fall-out has reached the top of Benin's power pyramid and now threatens President Boni Yayi, who appeared on television with ICC managers.

More than a quarter of the population has been directly affected by the so-called Ponzi scam, prompting calls for the President of the tiny West African country to be impeached after he appeared to endorse it.

Sandwiched between Togo and Nigeria, the central west African country is very under developed and corruption is rife.  Most people live on $2 (£1.30) a day.

Thousands of families put all their money into ICC as word spread that it could offer returns of between 50 and 200 per cent, while it used its apparently bottomless funds to finance health clinics, feed orphans and make large donations to Christian groups.

But the get rich quick dream was crushed last month when ICC closed, leaving 130,000 people who had invested their savings and losses of about $130m (£84m). Many families had pooled their money to invest, meaning that about a quarter of the nine-million population has been affected by the scam.

Electrician Lambert Saizonou, 40, poured his savings into the Ponzi scheme hoping that it would help him buy his first house. He told the Independent on Sunday: "They promised me an interest rate of 200 per cent. Now I must start saving again, little by little."

Families who lost their life savings in the scheme are angry at the authorities, who failed to stop ICC trading when it was not registered as a bank and turned a blind eye to a fraud. Now more than half of Benin's MPs calling for President Boni Yayi to be ousted.

Former development banker Mr Yayi, was elected in 2006 on an anti-corruption ticket and then appeared on television news alongside other government officials with managers of the investment company.

Adrien Houngbedji, a leading opposition politician, told the Associated Press: news service "We have elected a chief of state to protect the people. He has betrayed the confidence placed in him by the people, and he should be prosecuted before the high court of justice."

Hayley attribution