A Scottish shell firm is the heart of an investigation in to an alleged global “pyramid scam”, The Herald can reveal.

The Dundee-registered business is being used as a front for a get-rich-quick scheme called Questra World mushrooming around the world and is accused of risking ruin for its investors.

Britain’s financial services watchdog has issued a formal warning about Questra World, which calls itself a “life-changing opportunity” and offers returns of hundreds of per cent per year.

Belgium’s financial services watchdog said the investment system “clearly resembles that of a pyramid scheme, or at the very least of a Ponzi scheme”.

Police in the giant Central Asian state of Kazakhstan - one of the first countries hit - have already filed a criminal case of serious fraud against a Ukrainian man they believe persuaded people in to investing in Questra World.

Pyramid or Ponzi schemes generate enormous returns for early investors by using the contributions of new investors rather than through real world investments or trading.

Questra World’s core multi-lingual website claims it is an “advertising” business based in Spain with offices 21 countries.

In effect, the scheme works with low-level investors rising through a series of ranks based on recruiting new blood in to the scheme - with “directors” offered two free luxury holidays.

Questra World’s website claims it has nearly 100,000 “agents” in 50 nations, suggesting a scale of financial operation running well in to the multi-millions.

The scheme uses at least three corporate fronts, one in Cape Verde, another in the British Virgin Islands and the third in Scotland.

The Scottish entity is called Atlantic Global Asset Management or AGAM and is registered at a branch of Mailboxes Etc in Dundee. There is no suggestion that Mailboxes Etc has any knowledge or involvement in AGAM’s business.

AGAM is a Scottish limited partnership or SLP, a kind of business whose owners, until recently, could be legally anonymous, pay no taxes and file no accounts.

The Herald in the last two years has identified several hundred SLPs involved in criminal or unethical activity ranging from some of the world’s biggest money-laundering schemes to fraudulent online investments, corrupt arms experts and child pornography.

The SLP in the Questra World scheme has the same name as the Cape Verde firm.

The Financial Conduct Authority issued warnings about Questra World and affiliates earlier this year.

That has not not stopped one of the scheme’s many global champions - a self-described “Bentley addict” called Danny Lewington - from marketing Questra World at a series of events in Britain this year.

Speaking in June at London’s Landmark Hotel, Mr Lewington told a slick youtube promotion had had made hundreds of thousands of pounds from Questra World.

He said: “I started with 90 euros in January 2017 and phenomenal things have happened in the last five months. I have now hit half a million.”

Mr Lewington fronts for the British wing of Questra, called Success with Questra.

Its website has the founding documents of the AGAM SLP on its front page.

The Herald tried to ask Mr Lewington about regulatory warnings, the Kazakh police investigations and what the purpose of the SLP was. He did not return phone calls or emails.

A Facebook page for something called Questra World Scotland appeared in June of this year offering dramatic returns of 208 per cent yearly on an investment of only ninety euros. Bigger returns were indicated for larger investments.

The FCA in warnings on Questra World said: “Some firms act without our authorisation and some knowingly run investment scams.

“This firm is not authorised by us and is targeting people in the UK. Based upon information we hold, we believe it is carrying on regulated activities which require authorisation.”

Italy’s financial services watchdog this week banned Questra World and the Cape Verde AGAM from advertising.

BACKGROUND: The hidden Scottish links to a Kazakh scandal

They have blurred out his face and disguised his voice.

Arman says he has been cheated and he wants to tell the world how - but not who he is.

“They conned us,” the young entrepreneur tells Kazakhstan’s most watched news show, Informburo. “I want you to help me so that are other people are not scammed.”

Arman is one of an unspecified number of Kazakhs to claim to have fallen victim to what he - and police investigators - say is a pyramid scheme. He was filmed in June, a month or so after a friend asked him to attend a “free training” exercise for a business called Questra World. He parted with more than 20,000 dollars.

Now he cannot contact the man who persuaded him to invest. Police have opened a criminal case of fraud against that individual, a 42-year-old Ukrainian currently believed to be out of the country.

The Questra World story is big in Kazakhstan. Informburo hints victims include members of the oil-rich central Asian states elite. “According to some sources, among cheated investors there are major businessmen and show business stars,” the show said.

Arman claimed he was offered returns of 300 per cent a year. Advertising for the product - now offered in Scotland - suggest returns of at least 200 per cent.

Questra World’s website looks firmly Spanish and western European, with a back office in Cape Verde.

The scheme’s site suggest investors can have free foreign holidays and interest-free home loans and talks of “advertising”.

Regulators suspect Questra resembles a pyramid scheme.

This is when investors are theoretically promoting the scam by recruiting new members, who pay for their returns. However, Kazakh lawyers representing victims say what it actually does is “confusing”. On Informburo, Arman suggested he thought he was going to be trading in shares.

Pyramid schemes have a long pedigree in America and Europe but have had some of their biggest successes in the former Soviet Union and other parts of Eastern Europe.

Back in the wild east era of the early 1990s, a single scam called MMM tore through Russia, convincing millions of people to give up their savings and privatisation vouchers.

MMM may have fleeced up to 40m people of some $10 billion and played a huge role in It expanded well beyond the former Soviet market.

New pyramid schemes have emerged in recent years, attacking a whole new generation of victims.

Many are looking for the cover of a respectable European corporate entity, hoping this will reassure investors.

Questra World uses a Scottish limited partnership (SLP) as a front. It is not alone in doing so.

Questra’s office in Almaty was raided and its employees questioned. Informburo journalists found a locked door, with its brass name plate removed.

Questra World’s websites say it’s one of the fastest growing companies in Europe. Moscow media this week suggested 75,000 Russians could be be caught up in its scheme - which has not paid out in Russia since late August.