Social Trade Ponzi Scam: Do The Cops Have a Case Against Mittal?
Thousands say they benefited from the scheme, so was there are a scam? The Quint accesses the FIR & talks to cops.
Anubhav Mittal, the owner of 'digital marketing' website Social Trade, was arrested recently for allegedly running a Rs 3,700-crore online scam. Police say 6.5 lakh people have been conned in this way. But at the same time, thousands of Social Trade beneficiaries have held protests in Mittal's support.
If thousands of people actually benefited from the scheme, was there no scam in the first place? Was it wrong to arrest Mittal? And why is the Enforcement Directorate (ED) probing the case? The Quint accessed the FIR that led to Mittal’s arrest and spoke to cops and ED officials looking into the matter.
The FIR Which Led to Anubhav Mittal's Arrest
The complaint in the case has been filed by Dinesh Singh, a Noida-based transporter and a relative of a local police officer.
According to the FIR, Singh opened an account with Ablaze Info Solutions, which owns Social Trade, on 31 December 2016 by depositing Rs 5,700. Singh alleges that he was promised Rs 5 per click on a website.
The Quint has learnt that Social Trade sold ‘likes’ to companies, individuals and organisations who wanted to promote a website, FB page or a YouTube video.
But Singh says he didn't receive payments for around three weeks even after clicking on websites. The FIR filed by him at Noida’s Surajpur police station on February 1 says,
I tried to contact the company through the phone number given on their website. When my calls were not answered, on 23 January 2017, I went to their office at F-472, Sector 63, Noida, and threatened to file a police complaint against them. The company then transferred Rs 2,715 in my bank account in Indian Bank.
“But after this, I did not receive any money,” the FIR says.
I feel that the company (Ablaze Info Solutions) has collected a large sum of money from people by making false promises of income, just by a simple click on the website. I feel the company is cheating people in an organised manner, and hence, action should be taken against him.Statement in the FIR Filed by Singh
A day after the complaint was filed, Mittal was arrested by UP Police. And as the alleged magnitude of the ‘scam’ emerged, a UP police Special Task Force (STF) took over the case.
Was There No Need for an FIR?
However, Mittal’s supporters have claimed there was only a delay in making payments to Singh for completely valid reasons, and there was no attempt to con him.
Thousands of people have protested at Jantar Mantar against Mittal's arrest. Several people have also come forward on social media in his support.
According to one of them, Delhi resident Ashutosh Sharma, to open an account with Ablaze Info Solutions, a customer had to submit all of his personal details to the company. And sometimes, a Know Your Customer (KYC) clearance would take time.
Payments were made every Tuesday by the company. Singh opened his account on 31 December, and he should have received his payment on the coming Tuesday, but he probably didn’t because his KYC clearance was pending.Ashutosh Sharma
Sharma also claims that the website had clearly mentioned that from 12 to 22 January, no payments will be made or received by the company due to an internal audit. This could have further delayed Singh's payment. Singh has not mentioned this in the FIR, but instead alleged that the company intentionally held back his payments.
So was the FIR filed in haste?
ED Looking for ‘Missing’ Money
Going by the Enforcement Directorate's actions, it seems it wasn’t so. On 5 February, based on the cheating case lodged by the Uttar Pradesh police’s Special Task Force (STF), the ED registered a money-laundering case against Mittal and two others.
According to ED officials, during searches at Mittal’s office premise and residences, the agency seized several property documents and bank account details in the name of Mittal and his company.
We have recovered details of transactions worth Rs 500 crore along with property papers. Now we are trying to track down the rest of the amount. It is a matter of a probe whether the company owner has routed the remaining money abroad or not.Rajeshwar Singh, Joint Director, ED
The UP police and the ED are scanning the extensive transactions made by Mittal and his company.
The UP police’s STF has claimed that around 5,000 complainants have approached it via email. Police also claims to have recorded statements of a few complainants. It is also keeping a close watch on Mittal’s supporters and others who are meeting him in jail.
The STF also said that many others have contacted it claiming they were conned by Social Trade.
We have been approached by more complainants who deposited money and were promised incomes on clicks but received no payments. It is a clear case of cheating and we have enough evidence to back it.Amit Pathak, SSP, UP Police STF
The STF also claims that only those people are coming out in support of Mittal who were either part of the company or earned some money from its scheme. When asked for some details on the other complainants, UP police refused to share details, although it claimed that almost 6.5 lakh people have been duped.
Unlike other recent Ponzi schemes like the Saradha scam, many people have come forward in support of Mittal. They have claimed there was no wrongdoing. UP police though claims several lakhs have been fleeced and it has enough evidence to prove it.
And with the STF and the ED investigating the case, the truth of the matter should be out soon.
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