Any promise of windfall gains should arouse immediate suspicion, but the gullible continue to invest in Ponzi schemes which assure them of unusually high returns, though there are umpteen instances of such companies soon going bust, wiping out the hard-earned savings of a lifetime. The same is the case with I Monetary Advisory (IMA), headquartered in Bengaluru’s Shivajinagar area, which shut shop overnight leaving about 3,700 investors, almost all of them Muslims, high and dry. There is still no correct estimate of the amount of investment, with figures ranging from Rs 500 crore to Rs 5,000 crore. Ponzi scheme organisers promise huge payouts by reinvesting subscribers’ monies. But in reality, the monies are rarely reinvested, the people are usually swindled. For a time, it works as it takes the form of a rolling scheme where the old investors are paid from the amounts credited by new investors. When it gets hard to get new investors or when there is a large withdrawal of funds, the scheme collapses. This is a business where the organisers make enormous profits without any seed investment, while the investors lose everything.
Islam does not permit payment of interest and in order to circumvent this, the organisers registered IMA as a limited company and made all investors shareholders, promising them a share in the profits. With investors growing suspicious when the promised returns stopped flowing in course of time, IMA owner Mohammad Mansoor Khan, who is now missing, has accused former Congress minister and MLA Roshan Baig of being responsible for the crisis by not repaying Rs 300 crore that he had borrowed from the company. Though Baig has denied this, there is no doubt that a scam of such magnitude could not thrive for so long without the connivance and collusion of the police, politicians and government agencies whose radars should have picked up IMA’s activities. In almost all such cases, the authorities turn a blind eye and fail to act on initial complaints and appear on the scene only after the culprits have fled.
Though the Centre has promulgated the Unregulated Deposit Scheme Ordinance, 2019, in the light of the Sharada and Rose Valley chit fund scams, companies like IMA have succeeded in subverting the provisions of law. The Karnataka government should immediately take steps to attach the properties of the company owners as mandated in the Ordinance and conduct an impartial inquiry into the involvement of politicians and bureaucrats, for nearly 20 such firms have folded up in the recent past. But first, the people themselves should be vigilant and understand that when something appears too good to be true, there is always a trickster behind it.