Firm's COO Tarak Bajpai
With Nearly 20 Lakh Members, Many Of Whom Have Invested Lakhs Of Rupees, Scam Could Be Bigger Than Initially Thought
Mateen Hafeez TNN Mumbai: The Singapore-registered company SpeakAsia may have allegedly committed fraud that could touch Rs 8,000 crore, said angry investors, including Navneet Khosla, who had registered a complaint against the company with the Mumbai police. He has accused SpeakAsia of cheating him of Rs 2.4 lakh.
While investigators have refused to comment on this high figure saying they are still examining the firm’s accounts, investors say that many of them have put in lakhs into SpeakAsia. Sources say the company has ‘recruited’ 20 lakh investors across the country, but its website pegs the number at 19 lakh. Even Andheri resident Rajmani Shukla claimed the alleged fraud could touch Rs 10,000 crore in his PIL in the Bombay high court. On Friday, the Mumbai police had pegged the fraud at Rs 1,320 crore.
Meanwhile, the economic offences wing (EOW) of the Mumbai police, which is investigating the firm, arrested a fifth person, Deepankar Sarkar— an active promoter-—from Raipur on Saturday. He has been remanded in police custody till August 4. “Sarkar was one of the company’s first promoters and as of January 2011 had earned Rs 35 lakh through returns. When Speak-Asia introduced its scheme in February 2010, there were just 100 panellists,” said Khosla. Acting on Kholsa’s complaint and its own investigations, the EOW on Friday, arrested four senior executives of the firm in Indore, including COO Tarak Bajpai. SpeakAsia has also been accused of transferring Rs 700 crore to Singapore.
On May 11, SpeakAsia had allegedly charged 1,200 ‘panellists’ Rs 1 lakh to participate in a shopping festival. According to investors, the promoters had promised them “heavy discounts” on their purchases. Around the same time, the company came under the radar of the CID, I-T department and Enforcement Directorate, and its accounts were blocked.
The firm has no office in India, and functions through its internet portal. Investors enrol to become panellists for Rs 11,000, after which they get to fill two survey forms a week and earn Rs 1,000. It functions on a ‘point-based’ system, and panellists—as investors are called—are entitled to 10 points (Rs 500) for every survey.
Investors are urged to recruit people and are awarded points equivalent to Rs 1,000 for every new member. Police say the firm told investors they could cash in their points, but when many tried to do so, they came back empty-handed.
Firm says it’s awaiting govt clearance F ollowing the arrest of five SpeakAsia officials, the
company posted a message online, saying that the CEO, Manoj Kumar—who the police believe is hiding in Dubai—would address investors through YouTube on Saturday evening. However, even at the time of going to press, no such broadcast was made and repeated calls to the firm’s PR officials went unanswered. The company, however, on its website assured its clients that an application for setting up a permanent establishment in India had been filed and government clearance was awaited. Further, the company stated that over the last fortnight, it had made a few test paymentsbut the amounts were not credited by the banks as RBI had issued precautionary circulars. The company’s COO Tarak Bajpai (in pic) along with other executives are in police custody. TNN
PIL on firm helped investors’ cause
Rebecca Samervel TNN Mumbai: An in-chamber hearing in which a division bench of the Bombay High Court expressed concerns over the spate of economic offences in Mumbai may have prompted the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) to file an FIR in the alleged scam involving the online surveying company Speak-Asia. Five officials including COO Tarak Bajpai have been arrested and remanded to police custody till August 4.
“Offenders are luring victims by making extensive use of the internet to float attractive websites of bogus companies,” said a division bench of Justices Ranjana Desai and R V More after meeting EOW commissioner on July 17.
The commissioner had been summoned in lieu of a PIL filed by Andheri resident Rajmani Shukla (60) through advocate Vinod Chate in June. Shukla had contended that SpeakAsia had defrauded more than 50 lakh people to the tune of several thousand crores. He urged the court to direct the state to carry out investigations and take suitable action. Shukla said that in his capacity as a social worker, he had approached the policeafter he came to know about the scam. The police, he said, told him that as he was not an investor they could not take action against SpeakAsia.
The court directed EOW to file an affidavit indicating its plans to prevent people from being lured by internet offences. The matter will now be heard on August 3 along with an intervention application filed by Speak-Asia seeking to be made a party in the PIL. The court asked EOW to consider whether there should be a separate body to keep a vigil on the internet.
‘SpeakAsia has yet to give me my money’
In Lucknow, Manoj Rai (27) lamented his “foolishness”. Lured into SpeakAsia’s scheme, the MNC executive invested Rs 1 lakh on May 2, 2011. “A week after I enrolled in the scheme I saw media reports about the fraud,” he told TOI. Rai said he has collected over 1,000 points which are of no use to him as he has not received a single paisa from the company. One can get an account with SpeakAsia for Rs 11,000. “I bought 10 accounts for Rs 1 lakh. Every week two surveys arrive into each of the accounts. The survey can be about a product like a TV. Alternatively, it can address a topic like increase in fuel prices.” The forms have questions with multiple choice answers. “I get 20 points for filling two forms in the account per week, which means in one month I could earn a total of 80 points per account,” he said. The points are credited into the account and each point is worth Rs 50. “One can earn Rs 4,000 per account every month,” he added. An account holder could spend these points to buy products that are sold through Speak Asia’s website.” But when Rai decided to redeem his points, he did not get a single rupee.
The Times of India, July 31, 2011