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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Alms Trade: MMM Mogul Turns to Charity

MMM, the investment firm that brought Russia its first massive stock crash, now aims to become the country's largest depository of good will.


MMM spokesman Sergei Taranov said Thursday that new investors must sign a contract defining their share purchases as "voluntary donations" to the company's jailed president Sergei Mavrodi. Shareholders who resell their securities to MMM, which quotes its own share prices several days in advance, will receive payment in the form of a "donation" from Mavrodi.


Would-be investors who lined up outside MMM headquarters in southern Moscow Thursday were not perturbed by the new regime.


"We believe MMM will honor its commitments," said Yelena Sarvarova, 32, a tourist guide. "Mavrodi's a clever guy. This is just a way of getting around the government's laws."


"I've already lost a million rubles, so another 200,000 doesn't make much difference," she said.


Nikolai, 22, a street trader in MMM securities who did not wish to give his last name, responded more cynically. "People believe anything in this country," he said.


Officials at the State Tax Service and the Finance Ministry could not say whether it was legal for Mavrodi to declare himself a charity, but Taranov said he believed it did not contradict any existing legislation.


"We did this because everyone said we were cheating the public," Taranov said. "This way we simply have an individual agreement with each investor.


"We aren't trying to get around any legislation because there is no legislation. As soon as any legislation is passed we will abide by it."


A spokesman for the Finance Ministry, Diaz Zamilov, said Thursday that investments under this system would not be protected, because MMM had no legal obligation to make "voluntary donations" in return. But he blamed gullible investors for taking part in such an arrangement.


"Some people are foolish enough to do anything," he said.


Zamilov could not, however, say whether receiving "voluntary donations" in return for securities was illegal. Officials of the ministry's department of securities and financial markets were not available for comment.


The value of MMM shares peaked at 125,000 apiece last month, before crashing to a mere 1,000 rubles days later. Mavrodi was arrested shortly afterward and ordered the company to stop trading. He remains in jail now.


MMM, which resumed business Monday after a three-week break, is currently trading only in "tickets," 100 of which are equal to the value of an MMM share. The tickets do not give the bearer the right to dividends or to a share of the company's assets if it is liquidated.


Although the Finance Ministry has warned that the tickets are little more than "pretty postcards" and nearly worthless, ministry officials estimated that some 24,000 investors purchased the paper Tuesday alone.


Most investors Thursday sought to buy the maximum number -- 10,000, equivalent to 100 shares. MMM was selling 100 tickets for 1,805 rubles, buying them back at 1,700 rubles.


In street trading, MMM's new, blue tickets were being sold for 2,000 rubles per 100, whereas green pre-crash tickets were going for 3,000 rubles per 100. Actual shares were selling for 6,000 rubles.


Asked why the prices varied so much for what are supposed to be securities of an equal value, Nikolai the street trader said: "The old ones are more reliable. People think that they're more likely to get paid back." worthless, ministry officials estimated that some 24,000 investors purchased the paper Tuesday alone.


Most investors Thursday sought to buy the maximum number -- 10,000, equivalent to 100 shares. MMM was selling 100 tickets for 1,805 rubles, buying them back at 1,700 rubles.


In street trading, MMM's new, blue tickets were being sold for 2,000 rubles per 100, whereas green pre-crash tickets were going for 3,000 rubles per 100. Actual shares were selling for 6,000 rubles.


Asked why the prices varied so much for what are supposed to be securities of an equal value, Nikolai the street trader said: "The old ones are more reliable. People think that they're more likely to get paid back."