NAGPUR: Once again, thousands of gullible investors have been left in the lurch by a firm promising incredible returns, including doubling the money within months. Shreesurya Investment had collected sizeable funds from the general public over the last seven years, but has not paid investors for the last four months.
Dhantoli police have received a complaint against the company, but no offences have been filed yet as preliminary investigations are still underway.
The firm's flagship scheme guaranteed to double the amount invested in a couple of years, with the sum growing 25% if the money was parked for one more year. Shreesurya had also floated an insurance scheme, which is illegal since it was not registered as an insurance company with the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority ( IRDA) nor was the insurance plan approved.
The insurance scheme, Jeevan Kalpvruksha, sounded similar to one by the Life Insurance Corporation's (LIC), and Shreesurya offered a life cover of Rs 1 crore. The plan entailed an investment of Rs 5 lakh for 10 years, on which it promised lifetime payout of Rs 5 lakh each year after the 15th year, apart from the life cover of Rs 1 crore. TOI has one of its brochures in its possession.
On Monday, investors were thronging the new four-storeyed office in Pratap Nagar, but Shreesurya group proprietor Sameer Joshi was not available. Till a week ago, Joshi used to be available in the office, assuring visitors he would make the payments at the earliest. Now, he is admitted in a hospital as he is suffering from depression, said a kin, who did not disclose the exact hospital.
Joshi had registered Shreesurya Investments as a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) unit, from which funds were parked in various businesses run as corporate entities.
When TOI visited the Shreesurya office on Monday, most investors who had turned up were senior citizen who had parked their retirement benefits with this firm. Most did not wish to disclose their identity. One of them was a senior engineer from the erstwhile MSEB, who had parked Rs 50 lakh, which included his wife's retirement funds, in Shreesurya's scheme. The couple have not got any returns since May.
Requesting anonymity, the man said many person retiring from MSEB had invested in Shreesurya's schemes and they have now formed an association, which met last week at Amravati. "The clientele is spread across Vidarbha. It was sheer greed. There are many big groups from various other government organizations too," lamented this investor.
Sandesh Mudholkar, an executive in a textile company, said he has invested Rs 3 lakh but could not recover anything even after the due date passed. Another retired person, S Khorgade from Katol, said he has invested Rs 16 lakh, which is everything he got at the time of retirement, and was now making trips to the firm's office in vain, hoping to get something back.
Another man in his mid-40s had invested Rs 20 lakh he received after taking voluntary retirement in a state government PSU. Almost every other investor had a similar story. Prakash Agarkar, who retired from Mahindra and Mahindra's tractor unit, said he and his friends had invested over a lakh in the schemes. "My amount is not very big, but there are several who have invested Rs10 lakh and above. I guess Rs 10 to 15 lakh would be the average amount parked by each person in Shreesurya's schemes," he said.
A fortnight ago, Joshi had issued a notarized letter to his investors, citing global slowdown as the reason of his inability to pay them back. He assured the money was safe and he would tide over the crisis in 8 to 12 months, after which repayment would begin. Till then, he had appealed to investors not to visit his office as it hampered the day-to-day functioning. Joshi said if all his effort goes in attending to investors individually, he would not be able to concentrate on the businesses where the public money was invested, and in turn the promised returns will not be generated.
Nagpur: Shreesurya group chairman Sameer Joshi issued a letter on Monday evening clarifying that the group was stable and a balanced enterprise. He said reports of it being in trouble was a conspiracy by the unnamed "blackmailers" to defame it. He said the group had consistently grown in last seven and half years in establishing their products - a range of edible oils, packaged drinking water, restaurants, travel advisory, healthcare and retail.
Joshi also called up TOI office stating he would be back by Wednesday and would conduct a press conference to clarify his stand. Earlier, his kin told TOI he was not keeping well since last four days due to all these developments and was admitted to the hospital. "Our assets today stand at Rs 50 crore while liabilities including borrowing from well-wishers and associates do not exceed Rs 70 crore," Joshi said while denying he had liability of over Rs 1,000 crore.
He appealed to his investors and associates not to fall prey to false and malicious rumours being spread by blackmailers. He also stated he would be available in the office on every Wednesday and Friday between 3pm and 6pm to meet the investors and assured that the present crisis was a 'temporary situation' created due to recession in global markets. "As a responsible enterprise, we have the strategy to overcome this crisis. The investors will not be put to any losses and capital investments would be returned in a phased manner," he said while concluding his letter that mentioned his mobile number (9371136667) and address as Plot No 90, Vidya Vihar Colony, at Pratap Nagar in city.
What is shreesurya investment?
Shreesurya Investment, which styles itself as a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) business, has been in existence for the last seven years. It has been inviting deposits from the public promising huge returns. There are several schemes offering returns as high as 30 to 40% per annum, a money doubling plan with a two year tenure as well as an insurance scheme.
A finger in each pie
Sameer Joshi maintained that the money he received from the public was invested into a whole gamut of businesses, ranging from edible oil, transport, restaurants, packaged drinking water, health care, retail, dairy products gym-spas and financial services. But the prominent establishments were the Goods and Kapee stores at Congress Nagar as well as supermarket at Pandey Layout. Joshi has been claiming that profits in these businesses were so huge that he could manage such magnificent returns. But his explanation did not go beyond this.
How much money is involved?
Joshi himself puts the amount at below Rs 70 crore collected from close to 3,000 individuals which he claims to be from his close circle. However, there have been several other estimates pegging the amount to be anywhere up to Rs 300 to Rs 500 crore. If one goes by Joshi's claim of having collected Rs 50 crore from 3,000 investors, the average investment comes to around Rs 1.6 lakh per person. But during recent visits to Shreesurya's office, TOI came across several people having invested in the range of Rs 10 to Rs 50 lakh which gives an indication of the total amount being higher. There is no official count of the money involved so far.
Who is Sameer Joshi?
His family is one of the old residents of the locality near Hotel Hardeo, Sitabuldi. Joshi is learnt to have begun as an insurance agent, and later ran a business as a C&F agent at Chandrapur, which soon ran into losses and invited legal trouble. He was bailed out from this tangle by a a self-styled godman from Amravati, whom Joshi is close to. After this, he floated the Shreesurya Group with the godman's disciples being the first investors. His proximity to local leaders is also not ruled out. Till seven years ago, when he started this business, Joshi was hardly known in the business circles.
Rise and rise
Joshi moves owns a BMW and Mercedes, supposed to be purchased after Shreesurya was floated. A chartered accountant who had also headed the local branch of ICAI was once canvassing for his schemes. Sources say that the number of investors can range up to 25,000.
Who were the target depositors?
The godman's disciples became the first followers of Joshi, and soon the fold increased as the word spread. According to initial reports, a chunk of investors are senior citizens who have parked their retirement funds in the scheme. There are large groups of investors from different government organizations.
When did payments stop?
Shreesurya started facing hiccups from early 2013 and investors say that the defaults began from May. Joshi has cited global recession as the reason for his inability to pay back.
Other Ponzi schemes
* Nagpur has a history of Ponzi schemes. The biggest one so far has been Mahadeo Developers run by chartered accountant Pramod Agrawal which promised doubling the money in two and a half years by investing in real estate. The firm went bust in 2010. Agrawal was arrested and is being tried as investors wait to get their money.
* This was followed by J S Financials, a stock broking firm run by husband-wife duo Jayant and Varsha Jhambre, who collected an amount also running into crores promising huge returns through stock trading. The couple has been arrested but investors are yet to get their fund back. Their clients included professionals like doctors.
* Last year, Nagpur man Ulhas Khaire along with his wife Raksha was in news for his M/s Stockguru which again offered such fabulous returns. Khaire operated from Delhi and the fraud is estimated to be at Rs 500 crore. Khaire has been arrested too. The scam also brought several income tax officers in the net.
Vaibhav Ganjapure & Shishir Arya, TNN | Aug 13, 2013, 02.24 AM IST