Manoj Kumar, CEO of SpeakAsia (picture courtesy SpeakAsia blog)
On December 24 last year, when most people in Singapore carried on with their lives in a festive mood, preparing to celebrate Christmas, I was walking towards a hospital to meet a terminally-ill patient.
The patient in question was Manoj Kumar Sharma, 53, the CEO of SpeakAsia. SpeakAsia, a Singapore-registered e-commerce company, has been in the eye of a scandalous storm in India since 2011.
Most precisely, it is the company's business model that is at the centre of a controversy. SpeakAsia claims its business is about 'creating a panel community of empowered consumers, which earns rewards points by participating in various companies (sic!) activities'. These activities include e-zine sales, survey fillings, product referrals and sales, advertising based surveys, and training programmes. These activities are carried on (or they used to be) partly on SpeakAsia's website, and partly through affiliates and authorized agents in the real world. As a result of these activities, consumers earn reward points that they can use to purchase products (mobile phones, TVs, etc) and services from the company. However, according to Indian police, this foreign-registered company has violated the law of the land by indulging in money circulation schemes.
At a global level, SpeakAsia's's case presents a new dilemma for a new century: how do global e-commerce companies operate from outside the geographical bounds of a country and what if they break the law of the land?
The Mumbai Police's special branch, the Economic Offence Wing (EOW), registered a case against SpeakAsia on July 28, 2011 when a complainant, Navniit Tarachand Kkhosla, Managing Director, TFIC Consultant Pvt. Ltd. Bandra (E), alleged that some investors (named in the charge sheet) had cheated him by acting in a criminal conspiracy with SpeakAsia Online Pte. Ltd., Singapore and its CEO Haren Kaur, CEO Manojkumar, COO Tarak Bajpai, Regional Managers Ashish Dandekar and Abhishekh Kulshreshtha and other concerned officers/personnel of the accused Company "by inducing him to invest money around Rs. 5.43 Lacs (roughly US$9,000) in a Money Rolling Scheme of Speak Asia Online Pte. Ltd knowingly (sic!) very well that the Company is a fraud and having no product or any sort of business and cheated the complainant and his Company."
The police charge sheet further said that the above accused persons also induced the people in India to invest their hard earned money in the same Money Scheme and cheated around 20 Lac (2 million) innocent Indian investors for unaccounted huge amounts. During the period many of other complaints/applications were received from various victim of alleged money rolling scheme floated by Speak Asia Online.
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