The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has attached properties worth over Rs150 crore of Chennai-based Gold Quest International Pvt Ltd in connection with a case of money circulation business and cheating public. Gold Quest is the previous avatar of QNet, the multi-level marketing (MLM) company, mired in investigations from several agencies and litigations for duping thousands of people from India.
The ED has attached the properties under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Immovable properties of Gold Quest like residential buildings, vacant lands and commercial complexes in Chennai, Madurai, Hyderabad and Mumbai were attached by the agency along with Rs5.3 crore cash, shares and mutual funds of Rs14 crore, deposits of Rs48 crore in various bank accounts and articles of gold and silver worth Rs27 crore.
"People who were at the helm of affairs are Pushpam Appalanaidu, K Padma, and Munnawar Ahamed. The financial investigations under PMLA revealed that these people acquired several properties using the crime in the name Gold Quest International, Quest net enterprises, Pallava Resorts and other companies," an official from the ED said.
Appalanaidu was known as managing director of QuestNet India, the previous avatar of QNet in the country.
Based on various complaints, Tamil Nadu Police registered a case against Gold Quest International in 2009 for cheating the public by selling gold coins and other articles at exorbitant prices projecting the articles as limited edition products with numismatic value.
Preliminary enquiries by police revealed that the company had expanded its operations by luring the people towards such articles and huge commissions were paid to the marketing employees.
Following police action, both QuestNet and GoldQuest, the multi-level marketing (MLM) companies run by QI group of Malaysia shut shop in 2009. They now call themselves QNet, which is also under the lens and the economic offenses wing (EOW) of Mumbai Police as well as ED are probing the operations of the company.
After the police investigation, the Enforcement Directorate stared its probe in 2016.
Earlier, the Serious Frauds Investigation Office (SFIO) in its detailed ‘secret’ report on GoldQuest International Pvt Ltd and Quest Enterprises India Pvt Ltd has called multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes run by overseas operators as “a potential threat to national security”. (Read: QNet: Secret SFIO report says MLM, Ponzi schemes ‘a threat to national security’ http://www.moneylife.in/article/qnet-secret-sfio-report-says-mlm-ponzi-schemes-lsquoa-threat-to-national-securityrsquo/46817.html)
While investigating GoldQuest and QuestNet (previous avatars of QNet), the agency said twice it was provided wrong and fabricated data from the MLM operators. “The investigation did extensive and meticulous data analysis and has brought out clear cut falsification of accounts as both these data referred as old and new data do not match with the figures of the balance sheet. It seems the company has been paying the top of the pyramid promoters (TOPPs) by way of showing as the payments of commissions and getting the money from them apart from also making false entries in the payment of commissions. To avoid detection, the company has tried to mislead the investigations by playing with the data. Thus, the companies are not only conducting an illegal business contumaciously but are also keeping and submitting falsified documents to the regulatory agencies. Their business operations and conduct are thus totally unfair and prejudicial to the public interest. They are also a potential threat to national security as this scheme as well as such types of illegal schemes (eg. SpeakAsia) are being run by overseas operators…,” the SFIO report (seen by Moneylife) says.
As Moneylife reported in 2012
, QNet, the controversial MLM company, has been luring executives and professionals by promising a weekly income of Rs27.7 lakh. QNet claims that a Diamond Star can earn up to Rs27,73,800 (Rs27.7 lakh) per week while the same for a Platinum Star would be Rs22,39,050 (Rs22.4 lakh) a week.
However, the SFIO report simply trashes all such tall claims from the QI group. It says, “As per the data provided by the Managing Director, the GoldQuest and QuestNet sold products for a price of Rs806.15 crore to 2.39 lakh individuals. Out of these, about 50,000 people ever received any amount of commissions. Only about 20,000 were able to get more commission than Rs30,000, the initial amount of investment. So even though people were sold the concept and bought the products as a business opportunity, about 2.20 lakh people have actually lost money”.
The SFIO report also exposes the true nature of MLMs like GoldQuest and QuestNet. It says, “The key point here, which is exploited by MLM companies is that they claim to be selling products through the mechanism of direct sales and are not doing enrolment and the commissions are paid for sale of products and not for enrolling members. Thousands of such schemes are rampant across the country as was discovered by Investigation (SFIO) during its work, research and investigation. To prove that a scheme is violating Section 2(c) of (Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978), even though it is claiming that it is not encouraging enrolments, it the point of contention as the companies, in this case, GoldQuest and QuestNet, indulged in a lot of deception to circumvent the eye of the Law enforcement agencies and the Courts.”
“…in fact, deception is the key to propagate the pyramid schemes as the newly-to-be recruited person is to be convinced of buying the opportunity (i.e. of earning huge and life changing commissions) rather than of convincing him of buying the product. Here the business opportunity is sold, i.e. of earning huge commissions and the seller gains only through payment of commissions to him by sales to his down lines, which he makes by enrolling more members on his chain. As per maximum limits set by the companies, a person earn maximum of Rs6.90 lakh per week as per the compensation plan. This amounts to Rs3.42 crore per annum per qualified membership. This is the business opportunity on sale. This is hugely alluring and acts as a strong drive to recruit rather than to sell to non-recruits to earn maximum commission,” the investigation report from SFIO says.
QNet, the controversial, Hong Kong-based operator uses multiple names for its MLM scheme and GoldQuest, QuestNet, QNet, QI Ltd and QI group are some of its better known names.
In February 2014, the ED registered a case under the prevention of money laundering act (PMLA) against QNet, Vihaan Direct Selling, Ferreira and QNet founder Vijay Eswaran and three other independent representatives (IRs) of the MLM operator.
According to Gurupreet Singh Anand, a computer consultant from Lokhandawala, Andheri who had filed first information report (FIR) against QNet, the MLM scam may have cost the country about Rs7,000 crore since the money is being remitted abroad.