By Chris Borowski
WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish prosecutors brought criminal charges on Friday against the 28-year-old head of a collapsed investment firm, Amber Gold, accusing him of running a pyramid scheme that defrauded thousands of Poles by promising guaranteed profits from gold.
The prosecutor's office in the Baltic coast city of Gdansk, where the firm was based, filed six charges related to its activities against Chief Executive Marcin Plichta, spokesman Wojciech Szelgowski said.
He said Plichta faced five years in prison and a 5 million zloty ($1.5 million) fine if convicted of the charges, which include offering banking services without a license and using forged documents to register a new business.
Plichta declined to comment to reporters on Friday after being questioned for five hours by prosecutors, but has previously denied any wrongdoing.
The case has dominated news coverage in recent weeks, with television news broadcasts showing queues of worried customers at branches across Poland demanding the return of their savings.
The firm announced on Monday that it would seek liquidation.
Amber Gold, which promised high returns on investments in gold even as the precious metal's price on the market stagnated, is reported by Polish media to owe 80 million zlotys ($24 million) to 7,000 Poles. At its peak, the group had 50,000 investors.
Investigators who searched various premises related to the firm found 57 kg of gold, 1 kg of platinum and less than 1 kg of silver, with a combined market value of around $3 million.
The head of Poland's financial and markets watchdog KNF on Thursday called Amber Gold "a typical pyramid scheme" in which funds from new customers are used to pay earlier ones.
The regulator had put the company on its "watch list" in November 2009, only months after its launch and several times asked prosecutors to investigate it, with little success.
Plichta also used funds from Amber Gold to launch a local low-cost airline which failed in July after just four months.
($1 = 3.2870 Polish zlotys)
(Reporting by Chris Borowski; Editing by Catherine Evans)