High-flying SA crypto developer 'Fluffypony' rides to freedom after airport arrest
Fraud-accused crypto developer Riccardo Spagni was released from custody on a warning by the Cape Town regional court on Friday.
The 39-year-old, also known as “Fluffy Pony” went from flying across the US in a chartered jet and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paris Hilton in Miami to being locked up in the notorious Pollsmoor prison. Police nabbed him when he landed at OR Tambo International Airport on Monday.
A warrant for his arrest was issued after he left for the US in March 2021 in the middle of a fraud trial in Cape Town regional court. Spagni allegedly defrauded a Cape Town biscuit manufacturing business, Cape Cookies, of R1.4m. Cape Cookies employed him as their IT manager between 2009 and 2011.
On Tuesday, the regional court investigated Spagni’s failure to attend the trial on April 7 2020. Before he left the country the trial had been postponed several times because his doctor said he was at “an extremely high risk of life-threatening complications should he be infected by the Covid-19 virus”.
But social media posts of him in the US thrust him into the spotlight. In an affidavit, investigating officer Steven Pritchard expressed shock at seeing Spagni partying without a mask.
“I subsequently searched the internet and discovered that [Spagni] attended a crowded Bitcoin convention in Miami with celebrities [including Paris Hilton] between June 4 and June 5 2021,” the affidavit reads. “This appeared in a photo and [he] was not wearing a mask.”
Spagni was arrested in Nashville, Tennessee, in the US on July 21 2021 after SA authorities asked for his “provisional arrest” pending a formal extradition request. He was on his way to Mexico by private charter jet at the time of his arrest.
The prosecution and Spagni’s legal team butted heads over whether he should be released from custody pending his trial or not. Spagni, who described himself as a self-employed businessman in an affidavit, claimed he was not warned to appear in court on the date in question.
“My failure to appear in court was by no fault of my own,” the affidavit reads.
“I confirm that the state sought my extradition from the US. I initially opposed the extradition on the basis that the state delayed the matter, and in terms of the law of the US, after 60 days of not receiving an extradition request, I would be released. Once I was released, I returned to SA voluntarily under circumstances where my release on warning had not been cancelled and the state had to cancel it.”
Spagni argued that the court had not cancelled his release on a warning and that the state had not sought to have it annulled.
“I will not leave SA,” his affidavit reads.
“I will not change my address without reasonable notice to the investigating officer. I will not endanger the public’s safety and security. I will not make any threats of violence towards any person. I do not have any resentment against any person or harbour any resentment against anyone.
“My family ties are within the jurisdiction of this honourable court and I, therefore, have no intention of evading my trial. I am in a position to travel in order to attend each and every court appearance. I will not intimidate any witnesses in the case against me. I will not conceal or destroy any evidence in the case against me.”
Magistrate Nokwanda Simelela released Spagni on a warning. He will be back in court on Tuesday.
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