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Jan Bernhard Riggs: Something Rotten in Peruvian Coffee

In a video on Youtube, Jan Bernhard smiles and laughs for the camera as he drives through the Peruvian countryside, and why shouldn't he? He's wearing his Pronatur company shirt, driving a recent-model Toyota truck, with a nice watch on his wrist and the air conditioning cranked up against the heat and humidity. And so far, he's gotten away with swindling two foreign companies out of more than $750,000.

It all started in 2003 when Jan Bernhard was the manager of a Peruvian coffee exporter. He falsified documents to obtain a letter of credit from a Swiss coffee company he had partnered with. He bought coffee with the letter of credit and didn't pay it back. When the bank went to the Swiss company to get their money, everything unraveled: the documents collateralizing the loan had been "notarized" by Jan Bernhard himself, and the money was gone.

After several years of trials and appeals, the criminal court of Lima sentenced Jan Bernhard Riggs to pay a fine, reimburse the money, and a suspended sentence of four years' jail time if he failed to comply. So he has reason to smile, because he hasn't done any of it. Instead, Jan Bernhard Riggs is currently the General Manager of Pronatur E.I.R.L. in Chiclayo, Peru. He can't pay the money back, he says, because he doesn't have it - all the assets or properties are owned by family and friends.

But why is a man with nothing to his name but a smile and a nice watch trusted to manage a cooperative of hundreds of farmers, and why are banks willing to finance them? We're puzzled by every aspect of this except Jan Bernhard's laughter.

The photo below is low grade coffee that is either broken, immature, insect damaged, or moldy, overlaying a map of Peru. Pronatur E.I.R.L. was not part of the case, and is owned by Jan Bernhard's mother and wife.

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