When it comes to seeking sponsorship and finding, the government apparently does not bother about the colour or quality of money. QNet, a controversial multi-level marketing (MLM), was billed as one of the key partners of BIMSTEC SAARC Women Economic Forum, held in New Delhi on 13 January 2016. Organised by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), the high profile forum was attended by Mridula Sinha, Governor of Goa, and Anupriya Patel, Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
What shocked people is that QNet was one of the main sponsors and its logo was plastered across banners and posters during the pre-event publicity campaign. Angry victims of QNet then launched a sustained campaign and flooded social media to draw the government's attention to the controversial company. Although the government and Assocham have not officially acknowledged the pleas by QNet victims, it was seen that QNet had vanished from the logos of the actual event.
QNet has been severely indicated by various courts, the Serious Frauds Investigation office (SFIO) and has several of its officials and associates in jail, including Padma Bhushan awardee and former Worlds Billiards Champion Michael Ferreira, who remains in custody.
The victims raised an alarm when Ajay Sharma, director of Assocham posted a photo on Twitter about the event with QNet as one of the sponsors. Mark Ferreira, one of the accused in the multi-crore QNet scam and son of Michael Ferreira, who is in police custody in the same fraud, also posted a photo of this event on Facebook. In his post, Mark says, "QNet is proud co-sponsor of the Women's Economic Forum on Jan 13th 2017 to be held in Delhi". Mark is part of the charge sheet filed by the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) in the Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (MPID) Court in Mumbai in December 2016 against QNet and its franchisee Vihaan Direct selling (India) Pvt Ltd. The charge sheet states that Mark is not traceable and Police are still looking for him.
Led by Whistle blower and original complainant Gurupreet Singh Anand, the QNet victims pointed out to Assocham officials the many cases, investigation reports and court orders against QNet. The victims also filed an online complaint on the Ministry of External Affairs (as the concerned Ministry for this event) besides posing several messages on Assocham's Facebook page. According to the victims, Assocham did not indicate whether or not it would remove QNet's name as sponsor.
Hemal Ashar, a journalist from Mid-Day newspaper too faced similar issue with Mr Sharma. She contacted Mr Sharma for an article on the issue. However, Mr Sharma did not even let her complete her query on phone about QNet sponsorship, she says. “I have been getting calls about the company we are associating with. Why should I discuss anything with you? There is nothing to be discussed,” he said before disconnecting, Ms Ashar wrote in her article
We further learn that Vihaan, the exclusive franchisee of QNet, the MLM company and Assocham member. Consequently, Assocham has also been lobbying the government to allow companies like QNet to operate as 'genuine' direct selling companies. In 2014 Assocham wrote letters to the Finance Minister, Minister of Consumer Affairs, Minister for Corporate Affairs and Home Minister pointing to the "immediate need for the government to act for the interest of the citizen-consumer, distributors and genuine direct selling and MLM companies in India". (Read: Legislation Key for Survival of Direct Selling/Multi-Level Marketing Industry in India
However, the industry body appears to have overlooked reports from investigation agencies and several court cases filed against QNet.
The Serious Frauds Investigation Office (SFIO) in its detailed 'secret' report in 2012 on GoldQuest International Pvt Ltd and Quest Enterprises India Pvt Ltd, previous avatar of QNet, had called MLM schemes run by overseas operators as "a potential threat to national security
Last year the Bombay High Court, while rejecting anticipatory bail application of five prime accused, including Michael Ferreira, former world champion of billiards, has called the whole business of QNet as "prima facie illegal business".
Ferreira, along with Srinivas Rao Vanka and Magaral Veervalli Balaji, both directors of Vihaan Direct selling (India) Pvt Ltd, Malcolm Nozer Desai, who is a 20% stakeholder in Vihaan were in the custody of Thane EOW as per order from the Special MPID Court, Thane.