New Delhi: The economic offences wing (EOW) of Mumbai Police on Friday took into custody Tarak Bajpai, chief operating officer of Speak Asia Online, as part of its investigation into alleged fraud by the survey firm.
The police also detained four vendors of Speak Asia from Mumbai and Indore.
Singapore-based Speak Asia says it uses the collective bargaining power of 1.9 million online consumers to get discounts on goods and services. In addition, its members are paid for conducting online surveys for its clients.
In trouble ? Speak Asia COO Tarak Bajpai (middle) outside the office of the Mumbai Crime Branch on Friday. HT Photo
“There is no crime, no victim, no complainant. This is based on a public interest litigation filed by a person who keeps filing such PILs,” said Manoj Kumar, chief executive, Speak Asia (India).
Mumbai police took Bajpai for interrogation from Indore to Mumbai early Friday despite Speak Asia’s “best efforts to conduct an amiable discussion with the authorities,” the company said in a statement. “This sudden development has shaken us as it puts a blot on our integrity and promise to the millions of people who are part of Speak Asia.”
Corporate affairs minister Veerappa Moily has called for the documents of Speak Asia.
The Registrar of Companies (RoC) Delhi, too, is investigating the company under section 591 of the Companies Act, 1956, which deals with companies not registered in India but having established business in the country and represented by an Indian citizen or firm.
The ministry of corporate affairs, or MCA, is looking into why Speak Asia is not registered in India, its investments, how it conducts its business, where it gets its money and how it pays its members, a ministry official said in an earlier interview.
“I have called for the relevant materials on Speak Asia. We will take a call after examining them,” Moily said.
In May, Kirit Somaiya, president of the Investors Grievances Forum in Mumbai, filed a complaint with the EOW of Mumbai Police against Speak Asia claiming to have received several complaints from consumers related to fraudulent business dealings among other things.
Speak Asia, which has been operating in India since 2010, earned a revenue of $80.5 million (around Rs360 crore today) in the last three quarters, according to a company presentation last month.
The investigations have worried Speak Asia’s members .
Manisha Subhash Chauhan, a homemaker in Thane, Mumbai, invested Rs11,000 in Speak Asia this April. “We were supposed to get Rs3,500 and Rs1,000 extra (from Speak Asia) if we roped in more members,” she said. Chauhan hasn’t received any money from the company for introducing new members. Emails to Speak Asia have yielded no result, she said.
Mohammed Saif, senior product manager at a pharma company in Delhi, said he invested around Rs3.5 lakh in December and got Rs1.4 lakh the next month. But in May he got a mail from Speak Asia stating it was ready to pay but its account was frozen by the government.
“It is a very good scheme for a common man,” said Saif. “But then it was caught amidst all the charges of fraud and now things don’t look as good as it used to be. My father has been a member of Speak Asia and he didn’t lose any money. But I am stuck.”