MLM’s crippling people in Bangladesh

The Daily Star May 30, 2012

Sajjadur Rahman

Shady multilevel marketing (MLM) companies are cheating people across the country by offering them double return on deposits in less than a year, high monthly returns and huge profits from product sales.

These companies rent top-class office rooms and create eye-catching websites to lure people into their traps, and then vanish after swindling people out of crores of taka.

Weeks after Destiny-2000 and Unipay2u became the focus of public attention for their alleged financial fraud, there have been allegations that MLM companies FALGUNI INT and Revnexx tricked people out of several hundred crores of taka in just a year. Both companies vanished within a year of their operation.

Imran Hossain last year deposited Tk 20 lakh in several instalments with FALGUNI INT (Falguni Trade International), which had promised to give him double returns on his deposit in just 10 months. But he found the company’s office shut before his deposit could mature.

Like Imran, Farhad Hossain, Reshma Akhter and Shariful Alam were deceived by the same MLM Company.

Abdullah Masud, the founder and managing director of FALGUNI INT, adopted a new strategy to cheat people. He formed a food and beverage company and also set up a factory. He sold financial packages with promises of a double return on investments in 10 months.

He also sold his food company’s dealerships for Tk 4-5 lakh each and pocketed nearly Tk 10 crore from around 200 people.

Masud rented an 8,000 square-foot office at DH Tower at Panthapath and created a website branding FALGUNI INT as a leading industrial conglomerate in Bangladesh.

Posted on the website was the message that FALGUNI INT had assumed a leadership role in food and beverages, cosmetics and toiletries, infrastructure development, power, high-tech agro products, automobiles and IT sectors.

“He [Masud] has cheated a lot of people. Most projects mentioned on the website are false and meant to deceive people,” said Atiqur Rahman, who was director (production) of Falguni Food and Beverage.

He along with the company’s deputy managing director resigned when they came to know that Masud had been cheating people.

The workers of the factory did not even get their salaries, said Atiq.

When The Daily Star managed to contact Masud over the phone after several days’ attempt, Masud said he had shut the office as there was no government policy on MLM business. The developments relating to Destiny had also led him to make the decision.

He admitted that 20,000 people were made members of FALGUNI INT and he had sold a financial package of Tk 21,000 to each member.

“I did not take money from all members. My rivals are saying this.” Masud claimed that he had paid back many of the members.

Interestingly, Masud claimed that he had been cheated by another MLM company, Revnexx, last year. He had invested more than Tk 50 lakh in that company that vanished in less than one year of operation, he said.

In a tone of regret, Masud said, “MLM is here only to cheat people. Influential people are often hired to show off the business to people.”

“It is not possible to give a double return on a deposit within the time frame mentioned by MLM companies,” he said.

Revnexx took a more aggressive approach than other MLM companies. It held out the assurance that if anyone made an investment in the company, the amount would double in just six months.

Thousands of poor and low-income people fell in the trap of Revnexx, which had rented an office at Banani in the capital.

Harisa Parveen, a kindergarten teacher in Joydevpur, said, “I deposited Tk 73,000, most of which I had borrowed, in October last year with the MLM company that promised me a double return on deposits in six months. I received only one instalment of Tk 21,000 from the company.”

She found the Revnexx office closed after a few months.

Like her, Rowshan Ara, Abdul Halim Khan, Taslima Begum, Shafiqul Islam Khan, Ziaur Rahman, and Lutfar Rahman lost money to the MLM company that existed for less than a year.

The main culprits — Pintu Biswas and Rony of Revnexx — have been on the run after swindling people out of Tk 150-200 crore, according to aggrieved investors.

Global Guardian Network (GGN) introduced MLM business in Bangladesh in 1998. Later, some GGN high-ups, including Rafiqul Amin, left the organisation and formed Destiny in 2000. Destiny’s exponential growth encouraged many vested quarters to get involved in MLM business.

According to the office of Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms, 70 MLM companies have been registered with it, but no new companies were given permission to run MLM business in the last one year.

Wishing anonymity, a high-up of the office said the absence of law and policies gave vested quarters the opportunity to cheat people in the name of MLM business.

4 Destiny top shots quizzed

The Anti-Corruption Commission yesterday quizzed four top officials of Destiny Group, including its chairman Rafiqul Amin, over various irregularities in the multilevel company.

The outcome of the grilling, however, could not immediately be known.

The seven-hour interrogation that began at 10:00am took place at the commission’s Segunbagicha office in the capital.

Following the quizzing that ended at 6:30pm, ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman said the commission would protect the interests of the investors of the MLM company.

In mid-April, the anti-graft watchdog opened an investigation into financial anomalies, including illegal banking, by the company and its sister concerns.

The ACC chief, however, could not say when the investigation would end.

“The investigation officers have been instructed to do their job properly,” he told The Daily Star over the phone.

Talking to reporters, Rafiqul Amin, however, rejected all the allegations of wrongdoing made against his company and claimed that the group was operating as per rules.

Meanwhile, another probe committee led by the registrar of the joint stock companies and firms submitted its report on irregularities of the group to the commerce ministry yesterday.

The seven-member body was formed on February 13.

The contents of the report were not immediately available.

This correspondent could not reach the commerce minister or the commerce secretary over their phones despite repeated attempts.

The media published a series of news items on the group’s irregularities initially detected by a Bangladesh Bank investigation in March.

The central bank found proof of illegal banking by Destiny Multipurpose Co-operative Society, a sister concern of Destiny.

Illegal banking by the company has been creating disorder in the country’s financial sector, said the BB probe report that was also sent to the finance ministry at the time.

The report found that as of December 31, 2011, the multipurpose had collected nearly Tk 2,000 crore in deposits and share capital from people. Of the deposit, the bulk amount is lent to its sister organisations and only a small portion to its members.

The BB report said Destiny did not try to borrow from the banks or capital markets to meet its demand for capital.

Meanwhile, a Chittagong court yesterday issued arrest warrants against 30 top officials of Unipay2u, another MLM company, reports BSS.

The officials facing the warrant include its chairman and managing director.

The Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court in the port city issued the arrest order in connection with four cases filed for swindling more than Tk 13 crore through promising high returns.

The court also ordered the police to produce the accused before the court by July 19.