Miami Tech Guru Charged With Fraud Arrested in Malta, Faces Extradition

The strange saga of Alberto Chang-Rajii — the tech guru who wowed Miami with an elaborate backstory that turned out to be totally made-up — took an even stranger turn earlier this year when he fled to the tiny isle of Malta as his business imploded and criminal charges were filed in his native Chile.

Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission added fraud charges in Miami's federal courthouse to Chang-Rajii's growing list of woes.

Now he could be forced out of his Mediterranean hiding spot. The investor was arrested in the northern coastal town of Sliema. Chang-Rajii didn't make it easy on the Maltese cops, though.

Prosecutors on the island issued a warrant for him Tuesday after receiving a formal criminal complaint from Chile, where Chang-Rajii is accused of bilking some $100 million from investors in his business Grupo Arcano.

But first they had to find him — and Chang-Rajii was "hard to trace," police told the court. Yesterday they finally tracked him to an apartment in Sliema, but "it took the police hours to speak to the Chilean as he had locked himself inside," according to the Times of Malta. He was later released on bail but ordered to remain on house arrest until an extradition hearing.

It's a stunning fall from grace for the once high-flying investor. Chang-Rajii raised millions from Miami investors with a tale of leaving Chile for Stanford University in the mid-'90s, where he said he met Larry Page and Sergey Brin and became an early Google investor. He became a board member at Endeavor Miami and regularly spoke at tech conferences and universities.

But this past March, New Times reported that his Stanford tale was bogus, as journalists back in Chile raised questions about whether his business was legit. As Chilean investigators closed in, Chang-Rajii abruptly fled to Malta and essentially disappeared. Chilean prosecutors later charged him with running a Ponzi scheme.

In an SEC complaint filed last week, the feds say he stole at least $7.4 million in the United States too by misrepresenting his credentials and failing to invest money in tech companies as promised. When he fled to Malta, he hid millions in overseas accounts, they say.

Maltese authorities say he tried to buy citizenship on the island through a program that encourages investors to pour money into the island, but authorities there denied his efforts.

Chang-Rajii will now fight Chilean authorities' efforts to return him to face trial. In past interviews in Malta, he's blamed his business woes on Chile unfairly freezing his assets.  
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink