Back in March this year, I wrote about an MLM scheme - Speak Asia Online - that seemed too good to be true. The company claimed that one could more than quadruple their money in less than a year with little of no effort.
Yes, such schemes are a dime a dozen on the Internet but what was shocking about Speak Asia was its massive reach. This Google chart reflects the scheme’s popularity in India:
Millions of Indians had invested (and continue to invest) money into Speak Asia and, since the company also had a referral scheme, the ‘Speak Asians’ were working hard to convince their aunts and cousins and neighbors to invest in the scheme – the more members you can bring, the more you’ll earn.
The response to my story was unexpected. Some people were appreciative (for bringing a scam to light), there was criticism (did I have any hidden agenda against Speak Asia) and then there was also some level of panic among people who had invested their money into the scheme as well as some Speak Asia franchisees.
Then, as some of you probably know, a few days later, I pulled down my Speak Asia story. Why? There were allegations made that could be divided into three categories:
1. I got my facts about Speak Asia wrong, was embarrassed and therefore removed the story.
2. The company issued me a legal notice, something like a Cease and Desist, thus forcing me to pull down the story.
3. I entered into some sort of a financial agreement with them.
Well, none of the above is true.
Hundreds and thousands of people in India were ‘earning’ from Speak Asia now, especially the franchisees, and my story could possibly impact their earnings. I did not know who these people were but they were certainly from all sections of the society and the heat was getting impossible to handle.
You may call it a cowardly move but, after a few phone calls with some people, I decided that it was time to pull down the story. Journalists in mainstream media probably face such issues every single day but it was too getting tough for me and my family. I am sorry.
The rise and decline of Speak Asia
It was April and the company’s business was booming in India. The company had hired Lowe Lintas for their TV campaigns during the IPL season, they published public notices to prevent people from spreading ‘rumors’, newspapers were flooded with costly half-page ads and more importantly, Speak Asia even increased their rates.
All this hype and publicity finally caught mainstream media’s attention and the tables have finally turned.
Speak Asia is finding itself in hot waters now as most of their previous claims have been proved false. They are not based in Singapore, companies like Nestle or Bata have not commissioned Speak Asia for any market research, and the company’s business is under intense scrutiny by the government of India.
I have been a silent spectator all this while but big props to Sucheta Dalal of Money Life, Rahul Kanwal of Headlines Today and the Star News team for investigating and highlighting the Speak Asia Online scam to the public of India. I know the CNBC team has also been investigating Speak Asia operations in India since April but not sure if they went any further.
Here’s the current status of Speak Asia:
1. The government of India has launched an investigation into Speak Asia [Economic Times]
2. The Bombay High Court has issued summons to the top management of Speak Asia (they are merely fronts though) [India Today]
3. Some of the banks in India have frozen Speak Asia’s accounts for possible foreign exchange violations [Money Life]
4. The company is not based in Singapore as they claim but in British Virgin Islands and the real owners are Podium Ring International Ltd. [Business Today]
5. The Excise department has raided some offices of Speak Asia franchisees for possible evasion of service tax [Star News]
There’s possibly one more point that has not been covered so far. Speak Asia CEO, in a press conference the previous week, had stated on camera that they do not have any operations in Bangladesh. However, a simple Google Search reveals quite a few official letters that Speak Asia has written to their panelists in Bangladesh.
Now that government agencies and mainstream media is involved, it will be impossible for Speak Asia to escape the scanner this time. It may however be too late as millions of dollars have already left our shores and I doubt if that money can ever be recovered.
It comes as a huge shock that a company, involving financial transactions with 2 million people, could operate in India for so long without any scrutiny. What we urgently need is a law that will prevent any such Ponzi schemes from operating in India in future.
Update: The latest news is that most of Speak Asia management is currently in jail and the panelists have formed an association to recover the money that they have deposited with Speak Asia. The scam is now expected to be worth several thousand crores.