About 100 agents were deployed in three Brazilian states to search 20 addresses of gang members suspected of having "deceived thousands of people in Brazil" and at least 10 other countries, including the United States, the Federal Police (PF) said in a statement.

The names of the suspects were not given by the police, but the Brazilian press said that the leader of the network was Francisley Valdevino da Silva, nicknamed the "Sheik dos Bitcoins".

The searches were authorised by a court in Curitiba (South), as part of an investigation into suspected money laundering and international fraud.

According to news website G1, several footballers were defrauded, as was Sasha Meneghel, daughter of Brazilian television star Xuxa, who allegedly entrusted them with 1.2 million reais (about 240,000 euros).

The main suspect "formed a criminal organisation with several family members, to appropriate the amounts invested, in reais or in cryptocurrencies, by the victims", said the Federal Police.

The investigation began in March in Brazil, based on information transmitted by US authorities through Interpol, referring to a network of “laundering millions (of dollars) through an investment pyramid scheme”.

The scheme is based on the Ponzi pyramid model: early investors, promised huge profits, are paid by the money of subsequent investors.

Victims expected to receive "monthly payments of up to 20% of invested capital".

Instead of being invested in the cryptocurrency market, the huge sums "were used to buy real estate, jewellery, cars, boats and luxury clothing."