Top Speak Asia officials arrested (Second Lead)

July 29th, 2011 - 11:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, July 29 (IANS) Following the arrest of the chief operating officer of Speak Asia, a Singapore-based firm that offers handsome rewards to registered members who participate in online surveys for clients, three other officials of the company were also arrested Friday, police said.

Finance manager Ravi Khanna along with Rajiv Malhotra and the third official, identified only as Rais, were nabbed by the economic offences wing of Mumbai police and brought to Mumbai from different parts of the country, Joint Commissioner of Police Himanshu Roy told reporters here.

Earlier, the firm’s chief operating officer Tarak Bajpai was nabbed from Indore and questioned for investigation into a possible multi-crore rupee fraud.

“We suspected the amount to be Rs.1,320 crore,” Roy added.

The move comes two days after the Criminal Investigation Department froze the company’s bank accounts in India.

Roy said the company started operations in April last year and introduced a scheme in which the customers had to first become members by paying a fee of Rs.11,000.

“These members, known as panellists of the company, had to subsequently subscribe to an e-magazine. Every week, the panellists would have to conduct two surveys of the company’s clients for which they would be paid Rs.1,000.

“After continuing this procedure for 52 weeks, each panellist would get Rs.52,000 annually. This money would be transferred in a special account of the company provided to every panellist known as e-wallet,” he added.

Roy said the company paid the money for a few months to the panellists in order to gain their confidence.

“Later, the company stopped paying the money to the panellists, keeping the e-wallet of the panellist as empty as before,” he said.

The company also handed out survey forms of various well-known multi-nationals and claimed that those multi-nationals have registered with Speak Asia for the specific survey. “The companies have denied the same,” Roy said.

Headquartered in Singapore, Speak Asia is yet to be registered as a company in India, officials said. But it had operations only in India and no other Asian countries. The company had 137 franchises in Maharashtra, four of which are in Mumbai.

The company’s chief executive officer (CEO) is a Singapore-national Harendar Kaur. The India CEO Manoj Kumar is currently untraced and on tne run.

Bajpai, who handles the India operation for the company, however, told reporters that it was just a “small” probe that he was asked to respond to, and sought to tell Speak Asia members, who number some two million, that the operations were not above law.

Asked for the specific cause of the arrest, Bajpai sought to dodge the question, saying he was only going to respond to certain questions that may be raised by the probe officials and that he was not being arrested.

Earlier this month, the ministry of corporate affairs had also ordered an investigation by the Registrar of Companies into issues such as the firm’s management structure, as also the reason why it was not registered in the country.

Once a member joins up and pays a fee of Rs.11,000, Speak Asia allows him to respond to market research which clients want conducted. Members also earn reward points, that can be encashed, for giving opinions on product and other promotional strategies.

In its website, the company says: “The company and its business are legal.” The company dispatches money from Singapore by way of bank transfer, without the members having to even visit their banks, it says.

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