Suicides, thousands of duped investors, hundreds of laid-off journalists, bickering politicians, protests slack regulation, one suspected mastermind arrested: it’s Ponzi scheme time in West Bengal, and it looks likely that little will change after the drama ends.
The latest fleecing of poor and middle-class investors brought in an estimated $730 million, according to media reports, though public interest litigation filed in the Calcutta High Court by one lawyer says the amount is as high as Rs. 300 billion. ($5.5 billion) The head of the Saradha Group and accused mastermind of the scheme, Sudipta Sen, was arrested in Kashmir on April 23 after two weeks as a fugitive. He has maintained his innocence, and reportedly threatened suicide, saying he might not be able to repay investors.
Sen started out as a small-time property dealer in the late 1990′s in Kolkata. His Saradha Group in the past decade had interests in real estate, tours groups and newspapers and television stations, and eventually owned nearly 100 companies.
Data from India’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs reveals interesting details. Many were incorporated in a one-week period in January 2011. They shared an address: 455 Diamond Harbour Road, Behala, Kolkata. They each listed working capital of Rs. 5 lakh each ($9,196). Their email addresses were the same. India’s market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, began investigating the Saradha Group in 2010.
Three years after its investigation began, SEBI on April 23 ordered the company to pay back investors in three months. It has threatened to start a criminal case if investors don’t get their money back, according to NDTV. West Bengal sought Sen’s arrest, and the Congress Party has asked for a federal law enforcement investigation.