Indian authorities and media crack down on Speak Asia
Speak Asia Online claims to have recently broken through the two million membership mark. After being in operation in India for over a year now, this success hasn’t gone unnoticed and people are starting to ask questions.
Based in Singapore, the obvious frontrunner is why doesn’t Speak Asia have any member base or public presence there?
Questions like this have largely gone unanswered by the Speak Asia Online team. It wasn’t until a recent expose on the company by Star TV’s ‘Headline Today’ show.
Following the airing of this special investigation into Speak Asia numerous claims by the company have been eye-openly debunked, various Indian authorities have gotten involved, people have been arrested in Bangladesh and Speak Asia itself has been forced to answer its critics.
Is Speak Asia viable in the Indian marketplace or, as they company and it’s supporters claim, is it the victim of a smear campaign and being unfairly targeted?
The Headline Today show revealed several interesting facts about Speak Asia. Probably the most prominent thing that stood out to me after watching the 40 minute broadcast was that pyramid schemes are apparently not illegal in India.
Investment and banking fraud, money laundering and misrepresentation sure, but if I’m understanding correctly, there’s nothing illegal about a pyramid scheme that pays out its members (a sign that the recruitment base hasn’t been exhausted yet).
Another interesting tidbit was that apparently when the Headlines Today team went to Singapore to check out Speak Asia’s head office, they found only a small group of accountants who said they had nothing to do with the running of Speak Asia. After travelling out all that way, the Headlines Today team were redirected to go and speak to a group of about 200 people operating out of India.
This might have changed recently however as the show’s host also mentioned that Speak Asia have only just recently appointed an Indian CEO, Manoj Kumar, on May 15th, 2011.
This despite the fact that Speak Asia claim they have no offices or structure operating out of India itself. Call me cynical but rather than CEO it appears as if management are setting up a scapegoat should things inevitably turn sour for Speak Asia in India.
There was also a call in from a Speak Asia panelist who claimed he’d never even been told about the survey side of the business, nor had he ever received a copy of Speak Asia’s survey magazine.
You can watch the entire broadcast of ‘The Two Faces of Speak Asia’ over at the Headlines Today website (it’s a ten part 40 minute video broken into segments that auto loads itself).
Following the airing of this special on Indian television, as I mentioned earlier, the authorities in India have decided to launch investigations into Speak Asia.
First up the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has announced that it was ‘scrutinising the remittances made by the company’. As a regulator they can’t investigate Speak Asia because it’s classified as a MLM company, but if the suspicion is that, as an overseas company operating in India, Speak Asia are taking more money out of India than legally allowed.
Along with the RBI, the Economic Times (ET) publication are further claiming that the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Economic Offenses Wing and market regulator ‘Sebi’ have all launched independent investigations into Speak Asia.
Additionally ET also report that several of the businesses Speak Asia claim to have conducted surveys for have been outright lies. Amongst the names touted by Speak Asia ICIC Bank, who flatly denied being associated with Speak Asia in any way, forcing new Speak Asia CEO Manoj Kumar to offer a public apology.
More worrying then lying to the public perhaps is the claim by ET that Speak Asia has ‘changed its name three times in the last five years and is blacklisted in Singapore for non-compliance‘.
Claiming to be based in Singapore, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how Speak Asia can be blacklisted there whilst still maintaining Singapore are their headquarters (unless of course Speak Asia are lying about that too).
As these investigations continue and more details about Speak Asia are being unearthed, things aren’t looking good for the company. Just yesterday Bombay’s High Court summoned CEO Manoj Kumar and four other top officials of Speak Asia ‘after the filing of a public interest litigation‘.
The issue is that the consumer surveys taken by panel members of the website have no clear or apparent end-user. The company also has no business-linked revenue stream yet.
When I first examined the Speak Asia Online business opportunity I quickly established that with Standard Panelists only able to make $7 a week of surveys and Premium Panelists just $20, that most of the money made in Speak Asia came via the recruitment of others.
Therefore it comes as no surprise that the surveys being pushed by Speak Asia have ‘no clear or apparent end-user‘. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were just making them up themselves.
With the majority of revenue coming from recruitment, this also explains why there’s no ‘business-linked revenue stream‘ yet either.
Meanwhile, whilst the investigations in India seem to be only just getting started, over in neighbouring Bangladesh authorities have already sprung into action arresting ‘two senior officials‘ last Wednesday.
M.A. Aziz Raju and Morshed Monzu were both arrested at their Chittagong office following accusations from an investor over ‘misappropriation of funds’.
It all started on Sunday night, when some angry investors confined the two Speak Asia officials in their Mobarak Market office for about an hour accusing them of misappropriation of funds.
The police intervened and detained the officials the same night. Two days later, the police formally arrested them.
At the end of the day what we’re looking at here is a company that relies on its members to bring in new panelists coupled with a country with an extremely large population.
This means that, where traditionally such a scheme falls flat on its face quite quickly, in India Speak Asia has been able to survive due to a delayed effect in recruitment exhaustion.
After just over a year in operation the deck of cards appears to be on the verge of collapse and, unable to simply move off to another country, something has to give.
It’s a shame that there aren’t any laws in place to prevent schemes such as Speak Asia from popping up. Despite not being too familiar with the Indian MLM marketplace, if the spam emails and comments I’m getting on my Speak Asia entries are anything to go by, it appears there’s already a whole host of survey toting competitors offering the exact same recruitment incentives.
With the amount of regulatory bodies currently investigating Speak Asia in India however, perhaps its demise will finally signal the introduction of preventative consumer protection laws, rather than the current reactive laws in place.