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Fraud allegations wipe smile from Spain's 'McDentist'

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Fraud allegations wipe smile from Spain's 'McDentist'
Ernesto Colman's Vitaldent office headquarters in Madrid. Photo: Dante alcocer / Wikimedia Commons.
16:02 CET+01:00
Ten years ago he was lauded in Time magazine as “McDentist” for bringing his novel idea of franchise dentistry to the US and rapidly growing his company across Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Now Ernesto Colman is behind bars, without bail, as a major investigation of his millions ensues.

Thirty-six luxury cars, a private jet, millions stashed in the tax havens of Luxembourg and Switzerland - Vitaldent owner Ernesto Colman certainly lived the high life until he was put in handcuffs this week.

Spanish National Police announced on Tuesday that they had arrested Colman and 12 other people for suspected money laundering and tax fraud with Vitaldent, a high street Spanish dental office chain that serviced the smiles of millions of patients.

Colman is alleged to have forced franchises to pay him 10 percent of their turnover - in cash, according to El Pais.

Police said that to avoid paying national taxes, Colman allegedly deposited earnings from franchises into banks in Switzerland and Luxembourg.

The funds were later reinvested in Spain through buying property, luxury cars and other extravagant items, as well as trading thoroughbred horses as a means to launder his earnings.

As part of police raids, officials seized 36 luxury cars, a private aircraft worth €1 million and 124 properties.

Colman and five others are being held in prison without bail, Europa Press reported on Thursday.

Officials said that Colman and his associates are suspected of defrauding franchises of more than €10 million.

Colman himself reportedly made €17.25 million a year, which he hid from the Spanish government, according to Europa Press.

Becoming 'McDentist'
 
Colman was born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1961, eventually moving to Spain in 1989 at the age of 28 and with little money to his name, according to El Mundo.
 
He settled in Móstoles just outside Madrid and started selling dental equipment given his background as a dental technician.
 
In 1991, he opened his first Vitaldent clinic in central Madrid and started to expand across the country, eventually into Italy, Portugal and Poland.
 
With sights set on the United States market, Colman opened a chain in New York and had ambitions for Florida and Massachusetts as well. A 2006 Time magazine article praised him as "McDentist" for his massive expansion of the brand.
 
But Vitaldent did not see the same success in the US as it did in Europe and eventually closed across the Atlantic.
 
Still, by 2009 Colman made had the list of Spain's 100 richest people, valued at between €550 and €600 million.
 
The ongoing investigation started to unravel Colman's fortune when various franchises began complaining to officials.
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