Thursday, 4 August 2011

Speak Asia continues with its ‘golmaal’ answers

Serious investigations are going on against Speak Asia across the country, but the company chooses to portray itself as a victim, in an attempt to gain sympathy and more time from its agents who eagerly await their dues totalling over Rs1,900 crore

Speak Asia Online Pte Ltd (SAOL), which claimed to be 'Asia's largest online survey group' and has now changed its tagline from 'Asia's leading integrated market services agency' to 'Asia's largest community of sovereign consumers', is continuing to provide misleading answers on its website even today. In the meantime, Speak Asia has been allowed a meeting with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to explain its position by the Bombay High Court.

In an order dated 14th July, a bench of judges Dr DY Chandrachud and Anoop V Mohta, said, "We are of the view that the interference of this court is not warranted. However, in the interest of fairness, an opportunity should be granted to the petitioners (Speak Asia) to submit a representation to the Reserve Bank." The High Court, however, made it clear that even after the Speak Asia representation is made, it expects the RBI to take a decision in accordance with the law.

Disposing the petition filed by Speak Asia, the High Court said, "The bank (RBI) is legitimately entitled to protect the integrity of the financial set up, pending an investigation. Neither an investigation nor the directions issued by the Reserve Bank to facilitate it should be obstructed or curtailed. The bank has in our view acted within its statutory power to caution against remittances abroad in the case at hand."

According to the High Court order, Speak Asia sent a letter to the RBI requesting an appointment on 17th May to which the central bank replied on 16th June seeking a disclosure of information. Speak Asia responded on 20th June, but the matter appears to have rested there, the order said.

Now let's see how Speak Asia has played the High Court verdict to its favour. In an pop-up message to its agents (we are providing an image of the page below as there is no assurance that it will remain on the company's site after publishing this article), Speak Asia has claimed that it has received some 'moral vindication' from the High Court order.

It said, "We have got some moral vindication (for instance) the High Court of Hyderabad restrained harassment or arrest of any official or employee of our company against a complaint made by an NGO (criminal petition 5626/2011). The High Court in Mumbai directed the Reserve Bank of India to give us a hearing to understand our business model 'expeditiously' (writ petition (L) no. 1365/2011 - SAOL & Others vs Reserve Bank of India)."

The pop-up message tries to create a divide between 'them' and 'us', where 'us' is the multi-level marketing (MLM) company and 'them' is everyone else not associated with it. The message reads: "They are a product of misguided thinking, unbridled envy, and a desire to destroy what they cannot build. They are a set of people with deadly intent. They are the opportunity deniers. They are supported, cheered on and encouraged by certain vested interests like our competitors, some corrupt politicians and unscrupulous NGOs who have jumped into the fray to take advantage of our vulnerability."

Now, let us take a look at the company's method to misguide (aka golmaal) its panellists and other gullible people. On the frequently asked questions (FAQs) page (see the image below), Speak Asia says, "RBI, SEBI, Ministry of Corporate Affairs and PMO gave clearance to SpeakAsiaOnline?" For a common reader and Speak Asia panellist, it appears as if the company has already received clearances from these regulators and authorities. However, the reality is completely different.

In answer to this apparent question, the company says, "It has come to the notice of the company through its media sources that because of the negative campaign initiated by some organisations, that RBI, SEBI, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs and PMO initiated inquiry against the working of the company. However, till date SAOL has not been contacted by any of the government departments."
MUMBAI: Expressing concern over the mushrooming of websites that con investors out of their savings, the Bombay high court on Wednesday observed that the police must come up with a strategy to probe such cases.

A division bench of Justice Ranjana Desai and Justice RV More was hearing a public interest litigation filed by one Rajmani Shukla contending that SpeakAsia, an online survey firm, had defrauded lakhs of people of several crores.

On July 18, the judges held an in-chamber meeting with officials of the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) and voiced their concerns on the probe into SpeakAsia and Citi Limouzine cases.

Public prosecutor Pandurang Pol informed the court that a senior police officer of the rank of assistant commissioner has been asked to supervise the probe into the Citi Limouzine scam. Pol told the court that two more persons had been arrested in the case and submitted a report on vital steps , including moving the court for cancellation of accused's bail, taken by the EOW in the case.

"We wanted the police to wake up and start working. Now, they have,'' said Justice Desai. The judges appreciated the efforts made by the police and said public awareness must be created. "We are very happy. You have a duty towards the people. No person should invest money in such schemes," she said. "We hope and trust the police department will continue with the same sense of responsibility it has displayed," the judges noted.

Regarding the Speak Asia case the judges said the police must have a strategy in place to probe such online economic offences. "We want a general strategy of EOW in tackling such cases. We are concerned about these websites that lure people to invest money with promises of huge returns,'' said Justice Desai.

The judges have asked EOW to file an affidavit in the SpeakAsia case. on efforts taken by it to prevent such offence and directed them to file an affidavit.

The matter is adjourned to two weeks.

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