You are here: Home » Markets » Features
Business Standard

The only rule in a Russian roulette

Illegal investment schemes often serve as vehicles to stash ill-gotten money

N Sundaresha Subramanian  |  New Delhi 

I stumbled upon Sergey Mavrodi only accidentally on the internet. But the Russian has been growing on me ever since. Several videos show him preaching about the unfairness of the world's currency system. He calls on people across the earth to rise up against the financial slavery. He goes like, "Decided to declare war against the Federal Reserve and the bankers. (And to win this war!) Let each individual have small, but a lot of people, which turns into millions, and together is a force."

Most of these videos are translated into English, some even have English subtitles running along. Mavrodi's India representative is shown talking in broken, accented Hindi about the need to help each other and the country. "Hum keval apne aap ko nahi, apne rajya ko bhi madat karenge."

That's a heady cocktail - the kick of taking on the established order, the promise of a customised safety net and the guilt-wiping patriotism. I almost get an adrenaline rush when he finishes with a "Together, we can do a lot" slogan. I wouldn't be surprised if a young, educated person struggling to find a job or one with a job that does not cater to his aspirations, became an instant convert.

But it is great fun to listen to these stories when you know the truth. It is difficult to miss the striking similarities between Mavrodi and our own home-grown ponzi kings. They find themselves a messy, legal loophole and entrench themselves firmly in it. From there, they start bringing in the money by promising fantastic returns and flashy lifestyles. They then try to build a benevolent image by launching blood donation camps, sports and other community-based activities, like MMMIndia has been doing. And then they top it all with patriotism. Mavrodi though is by far the most sophisticated and most audacious of them all.

While Mavrodi himself has been jailed in his home country, his enterprise is doing brisk business not only in India but around the globe. It is not very clear if Mavrodi has built a significant second-rung to continue running the show endlessly. If not, people committing their money should be worried. He has even built in systems that enable administrators to put the entire network in sleep mode for months, if not years.

Last week, Securities and Exchange Board of India Chairman U K Sinha estimated this grey market at a whopping Rs 10,000 crore. I feel he was being conservative. Illegal investment schemes often serve as vehicles to stash ill-gotten money. People who have inside knowledge of the working of such schemes say that a person with say Rs 10 crore can open thousands of accounts in random names such as Ram, Sita, Hanuman, etc, and claim these are homeless, address-less people roaming the streets. If someone manages to see through these and confronts them with the rules, they play the social good-cum-patriot card and even play victim of some imaginary conspiracy, like Mavrodi. "The only rule: there are no rules at all! Even if you follow all the instructions precisely, you can still lose all your money,"that was not me, that was Mavrodi speaking through rules

First Published: Mon, April 08 2013. 22:41 IST