Originally created 03/14/97

Danish business man acquitted on all international fraud charges



Flemming Ralk lost nearly a year of his life behind bars because of an alleged international fraud scheme, but Thursday a federal jury in Augusta set him free.

"It's a fantastic relief," said Mr. Ralk, 69, a Danish citizen, said Thursday evening after a federal court jury deliberated nearly four hours and acquitted him of all charges. "I am very happy and very impressed with the effort that Mike Garrett put into this.

"I find it appalling that a man (the prosecutor) has such tremendous power that he can confiscate more than one year of my life," Mr. Ralk said.

Mr. Ralk and five other men, including Martinez businessman Rodney Baker, were accused of operating an international fraud scheme, cheating businesspeople in the United States and around the world out of thousands of dollars of dollars with promises of millions in low-interest loans and grants from the Japanese government.

Federal prosecutors contended Mr. Ralk was in the middle of the conspiracy, a top operator with Osamu Shimoi of Japan and Khalid Mahmood of Pakistan.

But Thursday, Mr. Ralk testified that he believed, as did the businessmen lured into the bogus program, that Mr. Shimoi really was in charge of a foundation set up to distribute Japanese money to foreign investors, much like the United States did after World War II in Europe.

Warrants for Mr. Shimoi and Mr. Mahmood had been issued, but they have not been extradited to the United States to face the same charges as Mr. Ralk. Last week, Mr. Baker and Illinois businessman Michael Rowe pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud, punishable by a maximum five-year sentence.

Mr. Ralk was the only defendant jailed in this case. He was arrested by Interpol police in February 1995 in Germany. Denmark doesn't have an extradition treaty with the United States. Mr. Ralk was extradited from Germany to Augusta last November and wasn't granted bond until January.

Mr. Ralk's friend, Thorkild Erritzoe put up $150,000 cash for Mr. Ralk's bond and testified on his behalf Thursday. "Everyone's welcome to join us for champagne and dinner at the Radisson," he announced Thursday evening.

Mr. Ralk said he would return to Denmark as soon as possible.