After keeping mum for all these years the MCA has finally decided to hand over the probe of chit-fund, MLM, Ponzi and pyramid schemes to a special task force under the SFIO
After the collapse of Saradha group, the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) in a face saving measure has decided to hand over probe of such chit-fund, MLM, Ponzi and pyramid scheme operators to Serious Fraud Investigations Office (SFIO).
“…in view of the larger public interest involved in these cases, and concerns regarding misuse/ laundering by such companies of the ill-gotten wealth, and the possibility that the promoters of these companies may strip these companies, it has been decided by the MCA to set up a Special Task Force in the SFIO to investigate the affairs of such companies. Accordingly, all investigations into such companies are being entrusted to SFIO with immediate effect,” the ministry said in a release.
The ministry said the probe has been ordered in view of a larger public interest involved in the issues, although the state governments are the appropriate authorities for regulation of such chit fund companies and schemes under the Chit Fund Act, 1982.
Moneylife has been continuously writing about the inaction by government and regulators regarding MLM companies, money circulation schemes, pyramid-marketing schemes and other similar companies that swindle the unwary public by offering them misleading inducements and depriving them of their hard-earned savings.
Here are some of the important stories written and representations made by Moneylife over the years…
Moneylife Foundation’s representation to PM, FM and RBI on MLM schemes
In May 2011, following the exposé by Moneylife on Speak Asia Online Pte Ltd and its MLM scheme, Moneylife Foundation sent a representation to prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, (the then) finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, finance secretary Sushama Nath and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor D Subbarao urging them to ban all MLM companies and their schemes in the country, or to bring all MLM companies under the regulation of either the RBI or the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), to stop them ensnaring gullible people.
The massive money, which is raised surely shows somewhere on the balance sheet of the company, filed regularly with the MCA. The primary recipient of the information about these companies is the MCA, and surprisingly the MCA is the least proactive in the entire process of bringing these perpetrators to regulatory focus, sooner before tonnes of money vanish.
Dubious pyramid schemes or money-circulation schemes are looting Indians across economic strata, finds Sucheta Dalal. This will continue since Central and state governments seem unconcerned.
Pyramid marketing companies are looting the public easily, while the government watches. Many countries have banned them outright.
A strange deposit scheme that is proliferating in the states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Maharashtra has already collected almost Rs1,000 crore and is expanding virtually unchecked. The scam has elements of money-laundering and possibly the use of fake and forged currency as well; however, the banking regulator would like to pass off the investigation to the respective state governments for investigation under the antiquated Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act.
An international network marketing scheme hawking expensive limited edition coins is attracting a huge following. Sucheta Dalal examines this strange quest.
Moneylife readers know how MLM schemes ensnare lakhs of people by promising extraordinary returns. We learn from the ministry of consumer affairs that the government is now waking up to the need for better regulation of MLMs and ponzis. At the same time, the powerful Direct Selling Association of the US is lobbying hard for an amendment.
Pyramids are pure fraud. Their business is unsustainable-they promise payment for goods or services of dubious value. The hallmark of these schemes is the promise of sky-high returns in a short period of time, for doing nothing other than simply handing over your money to them, and getting others to do the same.
Even as India bans pyramid schemes under a statute called the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978, the country continues to be a happy hunting ground for pyramids because our legislation is deliberately unworkable.
Investors losing money, or falling for dubious Ponzi schemes, is not a recent phenomenon; this has been happening for decades and it is not restricted only to India. Why is it that people repeatedly fall prey to such schemes in spite of being aware of the frauds perpetrated by conmen under different guises?
EAS Sarma, former power and finance secretary, said the ministry of finance, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), and the investigating agencies should collectively tackle this problem without any delay, as every day of procrastination will only result in thousands of hapless families cheated by the promoters of these schemes.
Spokespersons and dealers of multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes or network marketing schemes respond to questions about their legitimacy by brandishing a 2003 letter issued by the then secretary, ministry of corporate affairs (MCA). What they omit to mention is that the letter was subsequently annulled following complaints about its misuse. This means, the letter used by these scamsters is no more valid.
While there are existing laws such as Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978 (PCMCS Act) and others under which concerned agencies could prosecute the culprits, there is no effective mechanism in place to ensure a coordinated approach to identify the fraudulent operators in advance and book them well before they destroy the livelihoods of thousands of households and launder the ill-gotten funds to unknown destinations.
A set of powerful MLMs, which are part of an exclusive closed club, called the Indian Direct Selling Association or IDSA (on the lines of the Direct Selling Association of the US) has been lobbying hard to make a distinction between their operations and those of others, who they call, fly-by-night operators such as SpeakAsia and Ad Magnet.
QNet, the controversial Hong Kong-based multi-level marketing (MLM) operator with multiple names (GoldQuest, QuestNet, QNet, QI Ltd and QI group are the better known names) refused to answer simple questions like how much money their independent representative (IR) earns on an average every month and why their products are priced so highly. Instead, it sent us a threatening and defamatory mail that raises more questions as to their real motive.
If 2010 was the year of great Indian scams, 2011 was rather of ponzi and multi-level marketing (MLM) frauds. SpeakAsia managed to top the chart, but soon many others joined the bandwagon, duping gullible investors for several thousand crores.
Nothing comes free in this world, especially money. The universal truth is you need to earn your money by hard labour all the time and there are no shortcuts to double it in the shortest span of time. Therefore, even if your near and dear ones tell you he/she will double, triple, quadruple your money within a few days/months, politely reply to them that it is not possible and what they are advocating is a pure 'get-rich-quick' type of scam.
Herbalife, a global MLM scheme also prevalent in India, is believed to be worthless according to hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who made a detailed presentation on why consumers should avoid buying the company’s products and stay away from the MLM.
Expressing regret over the turn of the events which unfolded since the collapse the Saradha Group, Mamata Banerjee urged the affected people to stay calm while the government made efforts to help them
The West Bengal government on Wednesday said that it would set up a Rs500 crore relief fund for the investors allegedly duped by the Saradha group and that none including Trinamool Congress MPs would be spared if found guilty.
“The government will set up a Rs500 crore relief fund for the affected small and medium investors of Saradha group. Their names will be recommended by the commission of inquiry which has been set up,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee told media persons.
The chief minister also said that none of players involved in the incident including Trinamool MPs would be spared if found guilty.
Obliquely referring to TMC MPs Kunal Ghosh who had recently resigned as the CEO of the Saradha Media group, which had owned a TV news channel and party MP Srinjoy Bose, editor of a Bengali daily, Banerjee said, “One journalist is being targeted... There are so many journalists ... there is no use of identifying one channel and one newspaper.
“If any MP of Trinamool Congress has committed an offence, the law will take its own course,” she said, accusing the CPM of politicking over a people’s issue.
“How many CPM MPs have stashed their money and with how much did they run their party? And, a news channel identifying others will be exposed.
“Iswar and Allah know who has kept money for how many days. The government has no data,” she said.
Banerjee said, out of Rs500 crore, Rs150 crore would be raised by imposing tax on tobacco products. The balance would be garnered without burdening the people.
She said that the affected investors were also urged to give the details of their investments to the commission to be headed by former CJ of the Allahabad High Court Shyamal Sen.
Expressing regret over the turn of the events which unfolded since the collapse the Saradha Group, the chief minister urged the affected people to stay calm while the government made efforts to help them.
“Forget that it is your problem or my problem, it is the people’s problem,” she added.
The massive money, which is raised surely shows somewhere on the balance sheet of the company, filed regularly with the MCA. The primary recipient of the information about these companies is the MCA, and surprisingly the MCA is the least proactive in the entire process of bringing these perpetrators to regulatory focus, sooner before tonnes of money vanish
As the bottom-of-the-pyramid population continues to fret about having lost one’s life savings in the West Bengal “chit funds”, it is interesting to find politicians promising new stringent laws against such funds. In fact, law-making is the least of the reasons for such schemes to have flourished in the state. However, as political connections of one of many that have gone bad are exposed, the easy face-wash for the politicians is in law-making, to cover-up what is quintessentially an implementation issue. The reality is that we are not short of such laws—in fact, we have a plenty of laws that prohibit such schemes and impose sternest penalties for the perpetrators of such scams. But if a Rs22,000-crore scheme questions the very institutions that define our system—Supreme Court, SEBI, or whoever else—there is little surprise that the only succour for political face-saving is in law-making. And this is what we have done over the decades—as the write up below shows.
This article gives a quick overview of the laws regarding “chit funds” or devices of sourcing public deposits.
First of all, the West Bengal “chit funds” are not chit funds at all. Chit funds are a different structure altogether. Chit funds are mutual credit groups where money circulates among the group members, and the monthly contributions of the chit members are received circularly by one of the members who bids for the same at the highest interest rate or lowest “net present value”. Chit funds are perfectly legal, if they are registered under the Chit Funds Act, 1982, and run under the provisions of the law. The several names that keep popping up in West Bengal are not chit funds—these are collective investment schemes or public deposit schemes which on the face of it do not fall under any law, as they are structured so as to be neither a “public deposit” nor a “collective investment scheme”. But that facial structure is so gullible that any regulatory investigation may easily expose that these schemes were effectively nothing but public deposit schemes.
The evolution of regulatory structure in India is a rare case of human learning—we have burnt our fingers every time to learn that the fire is too hot to handle. So, every scam brought a law; in essence, the law is the edifice built on scams and not on intuition.
So, with all these laws, how to scamsters still end up raising several thousands of crores? Obviously, so much money is neither raised overnight, nor raised silently enough, as there is a massive machinery of agents who raise the money from the very bottom of the population pyramid. Each scamster innovates an ingenious device, but none of these devices are not iron-clad to avoid regulatory action, provided there was a will power.
Here is an inclusive inventory of the schemes currently in use:
No matter what is the device used, the common thread in each of these schemes is that the flow of new ‘depositors’ must keep coming in, because the only source from which maturing deposits could be serviced is by inflows from new depositors. Money is initially raised at hefty interest rates, and with attractive periodic prizes, gifts, gala parties, and so on. The agents who mobilise the deposits are given hefty commissions, because the structure essentially relies on a highly incentivised structure of brokers or agents, who reach right to the doors of the depositors to collect deposits. The cost of interest, plus the agency commissions, the luxurious spendings on so-called depositor prizes, and add to all this the lavish remunerations of the promoters themselves—all adds to a huge cost of interest, say, about 25% to 30%, which no lawful business may produce. It is not that these promoters are blue-eyed investors who know tricks of investing—so, they end up investing money in illiquid properties, resorts or hotels.
Now, the only way to keep servicing investors is that new depositors must flow in, so that old depositors can be repaid. That is, the base of the depositor pyramid has to continue to expand so that those up in pyramid can be paid—this is what Ponzi schemes are all about. This is what we call “tiger riding”.
Soon, the ride comes to and, and guess what happens at the end of any tiger ride! In the process, thousands of gullible investors have lost their life savings.
As hundreds of crores are raised though tens of thousands of agents, surely enough the exercise is not invisible to the regulatory eye. The massive money which is raised, irrespective of the label, surely shows somewhere on the balance sheet of the company, which is filed regularly with the MCA (ministry of corporate affairs). The primary recipient of the information about these companies is the MCA, and surprisingly, it is the MCA which is the least proactive in the entire process of bringing these perpetrators to regulatory focus, sooner before tonnes of money vanish.
No, it certainly is not the lack of laws that allows these scamsters to rob people of hard-earned money. It is clearly an implementation issue.