Sunday, February 1, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: India FINALLY moved against SpeakAsia Ponzi, SIX ARRESTED

Those in the US never heard much about SpeakAsia, because it was a hybrid pyramid/Ponzi scheme in India. And it ensnared a LOT of people and money back in 2011.  The current estimate was the SpeakAsia involved 2276 crore Rs (366.5 million USD) and 24 lakh (2.4 million) victims. 

The scheme had collapsed years before, and its head Manoj Kumar had fled the country and is believed to have died in a hospital in Singapore in January 2014. However, the wheels of justice turns slowly in India, and it was just announced that 6 arrests have been made involving this case in India on Feb 1, 2015. 

(A crore is 10 million, so you're looking a 22760 million, or 22.76 billion Rupees, roughly 366.5 million USD in today's exchange rate. And a lakh is 100000, so 24 lakh is 2.4 million)

SpeakAsia started operation in 2010, and claimed to be a 'survey organization' that were recruiting "panelists" for their opinion that can be sold to large companies for huge profit, but they need the panelists to put in money, usually explained as "tests and qualifications" and "e-newsletter subscription", and are encouraged to purchase "additional panels", up to 9.  "Panelists" are paid on the surveys they completed and on recruiting additional panelists. In fact, recruiting ONE panelist is worth 10 "reward points", while completing one week's survey only earns 7 reward points. This was clearly a pyramid/Ponzi hybrid scheme with the money cycled out to pay members who got in early. 

The scheme quickly spread from India into neighboring countries like Bangledesh, Malaysia, and so on. 

In May 2011, they claim they will have 10 million members by 2012. The heavy growth soon attracted the attention of media and authorities. Multiple news organizations started reporting on the inconsistencies of SpeakAsia. One newspaper claimed that multiple Indian government regulatory agencies have commenced probes into this company. One court even summoned the heads of the company to explain themselves. (Reports available here)  The company quickly launched legal threats against multiple news outlets while put out a press conferences denying all charges, amidst the news that their Singaporean bank ejected them and their head attorney quit after one week.  Then Indian authorities froze their bank accounts pending investigation. 

In July SpeakAsia launched "Yug", and claimed they are transitioning into a consumer model, where they will sell electronics. Less than a month later Indian authorities revealed that due to a judge temporarily lifting a bank freeze ordered in May 2011, 104 million dollars had been transferred out of India into SpeakAsia's account in Singapore. 

Additional investigation showed that the SpeakAsia scheme had been linked to additional schemes such as "AdMatrix" in India, "MisterCollibri" in Brazil, and various shell companies such as "Seven Rings International" around the world. Arrests of additional members and interrogation revealed that the surveys were not commissioned by any company, and were made from random snippets of Wikipedia and other media. On the other hand, rumors are flying rampant, either spread by loyal SpeakAsia members or agitators that claimed all sorts of government malfeasance, 

In the meanwhile AISPA, "All India SpeakAsia Panelists Association" was formed by Ashok Bahirwani, allegedly to protect and advocate the rights of the panelists. However, later AISPA paid off someone to cancel their suit against SpeakAsia, leading many to believe that AISPA was a sham organization out to confuse the public and delay justice. 

English: The supreme court of india. Taken abo...
English: The supreme court of india. Taken about 170 m from the main building outside the perimeter wall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The SpeakAsia case moved to India Supreme Court and was ordered into arbitration, headed by an ex-judge and became known as the "Lahoti Committee" which produced no significant results. 

In February 2012 an Indian comedy show aired a segment that lampooned SpeakAsia "Silent Asia Pvt. Ltd" and was promptly sued by SpeakAsia. However, the case apparently never went any where. 

In 2013, Mumbai High Court ruled against SpeakAsia (finally), but that's just part of the paperwork to get the actual scammers incarcerated, apparently.  It wasn't until end of 2013 that additional arrests were made.  It was then revealed that the fugitive CEO Manoj Kumar had terminal cancer and his wife, with confiscated passport, wanted to go see him despite being involved in part of SpeakAsia's money shuffle. 

There was a story that Manoj Kumar contacted an author and want to tell his side of the story for a book. The author wrote a blogpost instead. He apparently passed away in January 2014 in Singapore. 

Then almost no news until the arrest today. 

Maybe this will be the end of the saga of SpeakAsia, maybe not. 

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