Sunday, July 31, 2011

Speak Asia’s COO Tarak Bajpai detained

In trouble ? Speak Asia COO Tarak Bajpai (middle) outside the office of the Mumbai Crime Branch on Friday. HT Photo

New Delhi: The economic offences wing (EOW) of Mumbai Police on Friday took into custody Tarak Bajpai, chief operating officer of Speak Asia Online, as part of its investigation into alleged fraud by the survey firm.

The police also detained four vendors of Speak Asia from Mumbai and Indore.

Singapore-based Speak Asia says it uses the collective bargaining power of 1.9 million online consumers to get discounts on goods and services. In addition, its members are paid for conducting online surveys for its clients.
“There is no crime, no victim, no complainant. This is based on a public interest litigation filed by a person who keeps filing such PILs,” said Manoj Kumar, chief executive, Speak Asia (India).

Mumbai police took Bajpai for interrogation from Indore to Mumbai early Friday despite Speak Asia’s “best efforts to conduct an amiable discussion with the authorities,” the company said in a statement. “This sudden development has shaken us as it puts a blot on our integrity and promise to the millions of people who are part of Speak Asia.”

Corporate affairs minister Veerappa Moily has called for the documents of Speak Asia.

The Registrar of Companies (RoC) Delhi, too, is investigating the company under section 591 of the Companies Act, 1956, which deals with companies not registered in India but having established business in the country and represented by an Indian citizen or firm.

The ministry of corporate affairs, or MCA, is looking into why Speak Asia is not registered in India, its investments, how it conducts its business, where it gets its money and how it pays its members, a ministry official said in an earlier interview.

“I have called for the relevant materials on Speak Asia. We will take a call after examining them,” Moily said.

In May, Kirit Somaiya, president of the Investors Grievances Forum in Mumbai, filed a complaint with the EOW of Mumbai Police against Speak Asia claiming to have received several complaints from consumers related to fraudulent business dealings among other things.

Speak Asia, which has been operating in India since 2010, earned a revenue of $80.5 million (around Rs360 crore today) in the last three quarters, according to a company presentation last month.

The investigations have worried Speak Asia’s members .

Manisha Subhash Chauhan, a homemaker in Thane, Mumbai, invested Rs11,000 in Speak Asia this April. “We were supposed to get Rs3,500 and Rs1,000 extra (from Speak Asia) if we roped in more members,” she said. Chauhan hasn’t received any money from the company for introducing new members. Emails to Speak Asia have yielded no result, she said.

Mohammed Saif, senior product manager at a pharma company in Delhi, said he invested around Rs3.5 lakh in December and got Rs1.4 lakh the next month. But in May he got a mail from Speak Asia stating it was ready to pay but its account was frozen by the government.

“It is a very good scheme for a common man,” said Saif. “But then it was caught amidst all the charges of fraud and now things don’t look as good as it used to be. My father has been a member of Speak Asia and he didn’t lose any money. But I am stuck.”

Arrested Speak Asia COO insists there is nothing amiss

Tarak Bajpai, COO of Speak Asia, does not believe that any operation of the Singapore-based firm is above law. Tarak had recently made it big after becoming associated with Speak Asia, a firm earlier called Haren Technologies.

“We are not operating above law. During previous queries, all departments had given a clean chit to the company. This questioning is also a small part of it,” Tarak said before being flown to Mumbai.

Born in Indore on May 24, 1975, Tarak completed his early education at St Paul’s High School and graduation from Holkar Science College, which ironically, was also the alma mater of his father Vimalendu Bajpai, a senior executive with pharmaceuticals major Abbott Laboratories.

He honed his skills during a short service commission with the Indian Air Force, which he joined immediately after graduation and getting a ‘C’ certificated from NCC Air Wing at Indore.

Soon after returning to Indore, Tarak eyed for a place in the aviation sector. He along with his wife Swarna Walia Bajpai, started the firm Genesis Aviation — dealing with pilot training and aviation accessory support solutions.

While floating his firm, Tarak was associated with the Indore Flying Club, imparting training to aspiring pilots. His excellent communication and interpersonal skills helped him scale the ladder at Speak Asia Pvt Ltd. He was roped in to hold meetings across the country attracting prospective panelists.

Despite his detainment, Tarak feels Speak Asian panelists should not worry. The company management is here to support all.

Anticipating the legal hurdles, he had also approached the high court. “I have got relevant orders from the high court to deal with any unforeseen circumstance,” Tarak said.

The company also claims it has written to several agencies and regulatory bodies in India, as also the Prime Minister’s Office, for a thorough probe into its affairs since allegations against it could damage its reputation and trust.

MUMBAI: The Singapore-registered company SpeakAsia allegedly committed fraud that could touch Rs 8,000 crore, said angry investors, including Navneet Khosla, who had registered a complaint against the company with the Mumbai police. He has accused SpeakAsia of cheating him of Rs 2.4 lakh. 

While investigators refused to comment on this figure saying they are still examining the accounts, investors say that many of them have put in lakhs into SpeakAsia. 

Sources say the company has 'recruited' 20 lakh investors across the country, but its website pegs the number at 19 lakh. 

Even Andheri resident Rajmani Shukla claimed the alleged fraud could touch Rs 10,000 crore in his PIL in the Bombay high court. On Friday, the Mumbai police had pegged the fraud at Rs 1,320 crore. 

Meanwhile, the economic offences wing (EOW) of Mumbai police, which is investigating the firm, arrested a fifth person, Deepankar Sarkar- an active promoter--from Raipur on Saturday. He has been remanded in police custody till August 4. 

"Sarkar was one of the company's first promoters and as of January 2011 had earned Rs 35 lakh through returns. When Speak-Asia introduced its scheme in February 2010, there were just 100 panellists," said Khosla. 

Acting on Kholsa's complaint and its own investigations, the economomic offences wing on Friday, arrested four senior executives of the firm in Indore, including chief operational officer Tarak Bajpai. SpeakAsia has also been accused of transferring Rs 700 crore to Singapore.

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