ET Wealth claims it ‘warned’ investors about Speak Asia scam. Really?
ET Wealth is claiming it saved its readers from Speak Asia in 2011? Here is a case of a mainline publication that was then running for the advertising buck and now pretending to hunt for the investors!
After the recent arrest of scamster couple—the Khaires—who promoted StockguruIndia (first exposed by Moneylife
) which promised 120% returns per annum, ET Wealth
—an investment tabloid from the Times
group—published an article warning investors not to fall for Ponzi schemes. The 26th November article claimed that it had alerted readers about Speak Asia, a Ponzi scam that duped lakhs of Indians in May 2011. In this article, it claimed that on 9th May 2011 it had pointed out that “Speak Asia’s model was suspiciously similar to a Ponzi scheme. In the weeks that followed, the Speak Asia bubble burst and top functionaries were taken into custody for financial irregularities.” ET Wealth
almost seems to claim its article led to Speak Asia’s downfall.
This claim appeared strange to Moneylife. While our persistent efforts at warning investors about Speak Asia had earned us a legal notice and a defamation threat from Speak Asia—why was ET Wealth rewarded with advertisements? We decided to investigate what was actually written on 9th May 2011 and whether it played any role in unraveling the Speak Asia fraud.
To our shock, far from openly calling Speak Asia a fraud, as Moneylife
has done (see links below), the ET Wealth
article on 9 May 2011 downplayed the fraud with tentative comments like “It is this feature of online survey companies that makes them appear similar to Ponzi schemes.” However, it provided generous space to Speak Asia Chief Marketing Officer making nonsensical claims like “These surveys are conducted on behalf of our corporate clients and very large market research agencies. The survey results are used in preparing commissioned industrial research reports which are priced at lakhs of dollars.” All these claims were patently false and could have been verified with a few calls or emails. Readers would recall the Speak Asia CMO claiming that Indian corporates who used its survey services were—ICICI Bank, Bharti Airtel, Bata and Nestle.
Instead, ET Wealth wrote: “If online survey companies are to be believed, millions of Indians are making bushels of money through this innovative multi-level marketing (MLM) model. That is almost 1% of the total Internet population in India. At least four other online survey companies are active in India right now, drawing all kinds of fortune hunters.” This careful doublespeak avoids saying that Speak Asia’s claims are mathematically unlikely and hence, probably false. Instead, the Speak Asia CMO was unquestioningly quoted as saying: "We have almost 1.3 million panelists (members) working for us.” (Readers would recall that each panelist had to pay Rs11,000 for the privilege of joining Speak Asia and getting access to fill out two surveys a week, for which they were offered an astonishing Rs1,000 each. They were also paid handsomely for enrolling new members, which was the key to spreading the Ponzi.) Despite this, ET Wealth claims that it had warned investors about Speak Asia.
Fact is, when the Speak Asia fraud was raging ET Wealth was happily printing full page advertisements about this dubious company and writing neutral articles about it.
Here is something more startling. Even after Speak Asia’s COO Tarak Bajpai and other officials were arrested on 29 July 2011, ET Wealth continued to receive and publish the dubious advertisements. The pitch in these latter ones was, “Contrary to popular belief we are not going anywhere except forward. We reiterate that we are not here just to stay, we are here to grow.”
On the other hand, in sharp contrast, Moneylife, which carried a series of articles on how the Speak Asia’s claimed tie-up with scores of blue chip corporates was fake and that there was no money to be made in filling out childish surveys, let alone an opportunity to earn stupendous returns.
Here are some of Moneylife
articles published much before May 2011, which exposed Speak Asia and were available on the internet for anyone who wanted another view. Moneylife
was the first to expose the Speak Asia fraud in October 2010, a fact that was acknowledged by the mainstream media after it became clear that the promoters of this Singapore-registered company had transferred over Rs800 crore overseas and it could collapse.
Read - Another MLM scam in the happening, this time under the pretext of an online survey
ET Wealth’s guarded language had a clear financial purpose. It was the happy recipient of full page advertisements from Speak Asia on 2nd May, 9th May, 16th May, 25th July and 1st August in 2011. The first three pitched son versus father, daughter-in-law versus mother-in-law and husband versus wife with the claim of the younger ones claiming they had made the right investment by joining the Ponzi. We now know who was right after all!
What is intriguing is that the Times group, which publishes ET Wealth, makes no bones about the fact that it is a vehicle for advertisements first and a source of quality information later. That could be the corporate policy, but when it claims that it played a role in warning investors, while in fact it was only grabbing revenues from the advertisements and attached editorial coverage, that is certainly hypocritical.