Gardaí have expressed concern about a pyramid scheme which has attracted hundreds of investors since it started in west Cork six months ago.

It is believed that several million euro has been invested in the scheme, which has spread to Cork city and to a number of neighbouring counties.

The scheme started last October in Bantry where dozens of people invested €5,000 each. The projected return was €40,000 but before any of the investors collected, they each had to sign up at least two other people.

The scheme grew rapidly throughout west Cork. More meetings were organised in Bandon and later in Clonakilty and soon the first of the investors were taking weekend trips from Cork Airport to Munich in Germany to collect their returns.

These trips are believed to have been monitored by gardaí, but the act governing pyramid selling is weak and the investigation has been hampered by the absence of any complaints.

Investigating gardaí say they have been taken aback by the pace at which the scheme has spread. In Cork city, meetings are taking place once or twice a week and there was trouble at one of those meetings last Thursday night when several hundred people turned up at a hotel on the outskirts of the city.

Gardaí are also concerned that a different kind of trouble may be in prospect when the scheme collapses and in west Cork, where it started, the money is drying up. There have been reports of cars and property being damaged over the weekend as anxious investors go looking for a return.