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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 July 2006, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Woman sought in Magic Cheese scam
Galeries Lafayette in Paris
The scam promised access to the highly-lucrative Paris beauty market
Police in Chile are asking Paris to extradite a French woman after a massive scam in which thousands of people were conned.

People were persuaded to buy a powder which they could allegedly turn into "Magic Cheese", said to make skin look younger and to be highly valuable.

The powder, called Yo Flex and costing up to $500 (270), turned out to be an almost-worthless food supplement.

More than 20,000 Peruvians and 6,000 Chileans were reportedly duped.

Some spent their life savings or borrowed money to take part.

According to the police in Santiago, the suspect, Madame Gilberte van Erpe, or Madame Gil as she has been dubbed by the press, told people that "Magic Cheese" was the latest fashion in France, where women used it as a skin cosmetic to fight the effects of ageing.

Fermenting

The fraud consisted of selling people packs of Yo Flex powder that was said to be the raw ingredient of the magic cream.

According to reports, victims of the scam believed they only had to mix the powder with milk, to ferment the "Magic Cheese".

They were told they could then sell the cheese to a company, which would export it to France, where it would be sold on to French women at a premium.

The victims were told that they could triple their money in three months.

At the height of the scam, a pack of Yo Flex sold for $500, but chemical analysis determined that the powder was a food supplement used in Africa, with a street value of just $4.

Initially, profits were paid out, but after a while the cheques stopped coming, says the BBC's Jane Chambers in Santiago.

Public anger

Two Chileans have been arrested in connection with the scheme and a warrant has been issued for Madame Gil's arrest.

The public and politicians have criticised the authorities in charge of the case.

They say they were too slow to get involved, causing thousands more people to lose their money.

This is one of the biggest pyramid-selling scams Chile has ever experienced, our correspondent says.






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