The multilevel marketing company Metaverse Foreign Exchange (MTFE) Group Inc literally appointed representatives in Bangladesh to collect money from people. They used Bangladesh Bank and financial transaction systems. But after the scam surfaced, none of the government agencies were willing to take responsibility.
There are laws in Bangladesh for Multilevel Marketing or MLM. However, there are no approved companies for this business. So the question is, how did MTFE carry out such business and make away with so many people’s money.
The commerce ministry says they can say nothing about the matter. Bangladesh Bank says it is the responsibility of the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to look into this. BTRC’s comments have not been available.
There have been serious MLM and e-commerce scams in Bangladesh. In 2006, the irregularities of Jubo Karmasangsthan Society (Jubok) came to light. People also invested in Destiny and lost their money. Despite all of this being exposed, a large number of people were caught in the net of the company UniPay2U. The government has investigated these fraud schemes several times, commissions have been formed, advice was given about ways of getting the money back. But the people haven’t got their money back.
For about six or seven years such ‘businesses’ had subsided. Then in 2018 MLM businesses were taken up in the name of ecommerce. It began with Evaly. Then came along e-Orange, Dhamaka, Qcoom and more. Investigations are on against the owners of these companies too. Some ecommerce clients have got their money back, but most of them have been fleeced and are desperately seeking recompense.
According to the commerce ministry and the victims of these scams, the MLM and ecommerce companies owe people around Tk 220 billion (Tk 22,000 crore). These companies have around 10 million clients.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, commerce secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh said, “I can say nothing about MTFE. But there are efforts to have the money of Destiny and Jubok clients returned. However, realistically speaking, there is little hope for the clients who were scammed of their money by the Evaly or other ecommerce companies before 30 June 2021.”
The commerce minister went on to say, it feels bad to see how these people were lured into these traps. They shouldn’t have invested their hard-earned money is such risky schemes.
The concerned people, however, say that regulatory bodies are supposed to be in place to ensure that people are not lured into such traps.
Cheated by apps
MTFE’s fraud is different in style, but its strategy is like that of Destiny. Just as Destiny gathered more clients through the existing clients, MTFE also collects ‘investors’. They people who have lost their money say MTFE would claim to be a company based in Canada and Dubai and would carry out transactions online or in the virtual world in shares, dollars, crypto-currency like bitcoin and so on. They would promise huge profits on investments. Interested persons would pay through banks or mobile financial services (MFS). They would received virtual currency in return. The profits would be deposited on the mobile phone apps. For some time those profits could be withdrawn and encashed too. But recently the clients’ accounts on the app have shut down. The people have realised they have been victims of a scam.
MTFE has no office in Bangladesh. There is no address of any chairman or managing director. All transactions were over the mobile phone. MTFE would appoint country operation service (COO) representatives to collect investors, Hundreds of COOs were appointed all over the country, say the victims.
There are no records of how many people have lost money. But thousands of people in various districts claim to have lost millions of taka in this manner.
While these activities had been going on for long, this did not come to the attention of any government office. When asked if Bangladesh Bank is doing anything about MTFE, the central bank spokesperson and executive director Mezbaul Haque told Prothom Alo, “I read about the MTFE scam in the newspapers. Legal channels are being used to carry out illegal business. It is the people’s right to use their money as they will. Bangladesh Bank can’t say anything about that.”
When asked why MTFE’s activities escaped the eye of Bangladesh Bank and other government offices, despite their operations carrying on for long, Mezbaul Haque said that if BTRC had a website monitoring team, such matter will occur less.
BTRC chairman Shyam Sundar Sikder was contacted over mobile phone about this statement of Bangladesh Bank, but he did not reply to the call. He was later sent an SMS, but hasn’t replied to that either.
Destiny’s MD Rafiqul Amin owns 28 flats in Dhaka. Destiny has 24 rubber gardens in Bandarban, Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar. It has seven acres of land in Gazipur, land to construct business centres in six divisional towns, land and hotels in Cox’s Bazar and land to set up Destiny Agro Industries in Gazipur
Jubok and Destiny’s assets are of no use
Jubok was registered with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (RJSC) in 2006. And in the Bangladesh Bank inquiry report of 2006 it was revealed that Jubok was involved in unlawful banking and other scams. In 2010, two commissions were formed, headed by the former governor of Bangladesh Bank Mohammad Farashuddin and former joint secretary Md Rafiqul Islam. It was then revealed that Jubok owned 518 acres of land.
According to the commission report, the 303,739 cheated clients of Jubok claimed around Tk 25.89 billion (Tk 2,588 crore 11 lakh.)
General secretary of the welfare committee of those affected by Jubok, Mahmud Hossain, speaking to Prothom Alo in Tuesday, said, “We filed a writ last year for an administrator to be appointed. We hope one day we will receive our rightful dues.”
Meanwhile, it was back in 2000 that Destiny started out with its MLM business. Over the years till 2012, the company collected Tk 50 billion (Tk 5000 crore). According to Destiny’s records, it has 4.5 million clients, agents and investors.
According to court order, from 2013 the police have been in charge of Destiny’s tangible and intangible assets. In Dhaka it is the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) who are in charge of Destiny’s assets, and out of Dhaka it is the police super of the concerned district. According to the Bangladesh Bank report, Destiny has assets in 22 districts of the country including Dhaka. Destiny’s MD Rafiqul Amin owns 28 flats in Dhaka. Destiny has 24 rubber gardens in Bandarban, Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar. It has seven acres of land in Gazipur, land to construct business centres in six divisional towns, land and hotels in Cox’s Bazar and land to set up Destiny Agro Industries in Gazipur. Destiny’s MD Rafiqul Amin has been in jail for over 10 years. He was convicted for three years in one case and other cases are ongoing.
The clients still have not recovered their money. The government has failed to implement the recommendations to form a commissioner to recover the clients’ money or any of the inquiry committee’s recommendations.
In a report drawn up by the cooperatives directorate for the parliamentary standing committee in 2017, it was said that 166 cooperative associations had collected around Tk 40.68 billion (Tk 4068 crore) from the common people and hadn’t returned it. Most of these association had simply shut shop and fled.
Evaly after UniPay2U
In October 2009 UniPay2U lured people into investing money, with the promise of double the profit in 10 months. The depositors say that UniPay2U investors has deposited Tk 60 billion (Tk 6000 crore) with UniPay2U but got nothing back. In the ACC case, six persons including the UniPay managing director Md Muntasir Hossain were punished.
In 2018 Evaly arrived on the scene offering motorcycles and other items at huge discount. Then came along e-Orange, Aleshamart and more, all cheating people of their money.
Evaly became the sponsor for a government company. Government officials praised such companies. For example, on 8 November 2021, Evaly won an award for on the founding anniversary of e-CAB, an ecommerce organisaton. The ICT state minister Zunaid Palak handed over the award to Evaly chairman Shamima Nasrin. He said, companies like Evaly on say will be the Amazon or Alibaba of Bangladesh.
Later, however, it was seen that these firms filched people’s money and laundered it. The clients are now owed Tk 90 billion (Tk 9000 crore) from Evaly, Tk 11 billion (Tk 1100 crore) from e-Orange, and Tk 8.08 million from Dhamaka. People’s money has been held up by a handful of other ecommerce companies.
Govt taking the matter lightly
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Professor Subarna Barua of Dhaka University’s international business department said that there are at least 1000 NTFE firms like MTEF in the very pores of society.
Subarna Barua is a member of those who have prepared who drew up the inquiry report on Evaly. He said, first there were MLMs like Jubok and Destiny, then there was the ecommerce of Evaly. Now the youth are being attracted by the lure of earning money through cryptocurrency. There is need to look into why this is happening. In the meantime, there is no alternative but for the government to carry out awareness campaigns in this regard. But the government is not doing so.