Fleecing the Faithful—Again: Former YWAM Leader Defrauds Many
When Jan and Henny Pauw visited Le Rucher on a summer missions trip, they never dreamed it would wind up costing them their retirement nest egg. The Dutch couple became ensnared in a faith-based Ponzi scheme that operated for a dozen years before it unraveled.
Nestled on two acres at the base of France's Jura Mountains and the nearby Swiss Alps, the Le Rucher retreat center opened in 1994 to help stressed-out missionaries recuperate. But Le Rucher became the setting for the promotion of the fraudulent Nordic Capital Investments (NCI), which has created resentment toward Le Rucher co-founder Erik Spruyt. Last October, Swedish businessman Kristian Westergard, the founder of NCI and a close associate of Spruyt's, was convicted of gross fraud in Sweden and sentenced to prison.
In 1998, the Pauws went to Le Rucher—then associated with Youth With a Mission (YWAM)—with their evangelical church in Ermelo, the Netherlands. An industrial chemist by trade, Jan had never been on a Christian mission. On the couple's first trip, Spruyt suggested they consider becoming long-term volunteers. Jan replied that they couldn't afford it.
When the Pauws returned the following summer, Spruyt repeated the suggestion. Jan demurred. Then, they say, Spruyt introduced them to NCI, a special investment fund that paid interest of 15 percent a year (the rate on a contract they later signed). It had the potential to generate enough income to support the couple. Part of the attraction was the promise that some of the fund's earnings would generate charitable support for select Christian missions. The Pauws invested euros worth $260,000. The following year they moved to Le Rucher as volunteers.
In total, the couple received more than $230,000 before payments ceased. But the principal amount of their nest egg has vanished. They still rue their decision to trust Spruyt's referral to NCI. In a 2001 e-mail with a sample NCI contract, he said, "If you want to take this seriously then this is the procedure that I recommend to you with the amount you want to invest."
"All we have now is our old-age pension and a small pension from my work as an industrial chemist," Pauw says. "Sometimes we think, How could we have been so stupid to believe them? Why did we trust them?"
The Pauws are not alone. A leader with Petra People—a web-based advocacy group formed to press for further investigation and demand return of money to investors—told Christianity Today that court records show that NCI victimized more than 100 investors.
In 2010, Sweden brought criminal action against Westergard, charging him with defrauding 29 plaintiffs, including his son-in-law, a member of the Swedish Parliament. Prosecutor Gina Kezovska said an investigation showed that over a 10-year period, Westergard signed contracts totaling $17 million. The Swedish court imposed a four-year prison sentence, ordered Westergard to repay $4.5 million, and banned him from business for eight years. Westergard, whose attorney did not respond to CT's interview request, is appealing the fraud conviction. The court said Westergard had used new investors' money to pay original investors "dividends" to maintain the illusion of profitability—the classic mark of a Ponzi scheme.
"The invested monies have not been placed on the financial market or in any investment pro-gram but rather have primarily been used for Kristian Westergard's and others' overhead as well as the reimbursement of other investors," the judges wrote.