Heera Gold’s registered office in Masab Tank, Hyderabad.
On the ground
Earlier last month, in September 2016, I set out for Hyderabad. To Heera Group’s head office located at Masab Tank, to find out more. With ten companies, thousands of investors and crores of funds, I had a certain picture of their group head office. What I saw was a small commercial building, various businesses running operations on the ground floor – a private cab operator, a Haj & Umrah travels company, a Hero Motors showroom and a men’s parlour. One of these shops belonged to Heera Textiles; the entire first floor occupied by Heera Group companies. But right at the entrance, there was a notice from a Debt Recovery Tribunal on a case between Indian Overseas Bank and Shaik, putting a stay on recovery of property until 8 September, 2016.
Shutters were drawn down on three of the five stores, which were branded as Heera Fancy World. There was a working jewellery showroom. I was welcomed in the office and I met the lady manning the front desk who refused to disclose anything about the company and asked me to send queries to firstname.lastname@example.org – an address reportedly accessed by both Shaik and her personal assistant, Molly Thomas.
Multiple emails, with a detailed questionnaire sent to this address went unanswered.
I did meet Thomas though; only after showing up uninvited at their second operational office. This office was more well put up than their head office. Thomas too didn’t reveal much. She was not authorised to speak on behalf of the company, and she added that she was a mere employee who kept her head down, clocked in her hours and did what she was told to do. A little puzzling though, that a mere employee had access to tens of CCTV cameras streaming from various locations at her desk. She wouldn’t confirm if Shaik was in town and also expressed inability to initiate any meeting with her, until directly authorised.
In search of answers, I spent time in Hyderabad visiting the offices of Food, Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and the white collar offences team of the crime branch, Hyderabad police. I also spoke to agents, sub-agents, ex-employees, and investors for this story – few were willing to go on record.
Apart from being a hobby photoshopper, who is Shaik? She is a director in at least ten companies in India — running the gamut from gold exports and imports, jewellery, financial services, packaged foods, bottled water plant, Haj & Umrah tours, trading blankets and bedsheets from China. All co-founded and co-owned by her, Mubarak Jan Shaik and Khamar Jan Shaik (perhaps sisters going by most accounts, but The Ken couldn’t independently confirm this). Shaik is a self-professed pious Muslim from Tirupati. The group also operates from satellite offices in Mumbai and Dubai. They have retail jewellery shops in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai and claims warehouses and offices in Dubai and other parts of UAE.
Nowhera Shaik, CEO of Heera Business Group. Image credit: Company website
Depending on which way the wind is blowing, she is referred to as Dr, Aalima (gendered title for Islamic scholar), CEO, chairman, director, MD, CMD or Aapa. Aapa is commonly used in Urdu-speaking and Muslim circles to address any lady with respect, especially one who’s pious or religious.
All public functions and all her speeches come with a generous dose of:
–Bismillah (In the name of God)
–InshaAllah (God willing)
–Alhamdulillah (All Praise Due to God)
-Sermons of Quranic verses, Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, Islamic history
– Religious chants and songs (naaths) filling up the background
Heera Group’s brochures exhort readers to participate in this special opportunity of handsome profits and contribute to the cause of an interest-free society.
“Heera Group – Towards an interest-free world” – their tagline.
Lest you forget, Shaik and and her followers dutifully remind you that part of the profits retained by the promoters is used to run an Islamic school for girls and other avenues to empower and work towards upliftment of the financially weaker sections within the community.
But back to business. Gold trading of course, is just one. The flagship one. And then there are others: blankets imported from China into Dubai and India under “Diamond” mark. File it under Heera Textiles Limited. A bottled-water business under the brand “Heera Pure Drops”. File it under Heera Ice Drop Pvt Ltd? No, because all water business is conducted under Heera Retail (Hyderabad) Pvt Ltd, a different company, also cofounded by same set of promoters.
To a packed auditorium in various Annual General Meetings of shareholders, at Shanmukhananda Hall, Matunga (March ’13), at Y.B.Chavan Center, Khar (November ’12), at Bandra-Kurla Complex grounds (May ’11) or any other large venue, all in Mumbai, depositors line up like sheep for their share of profits.
On prodding, the refrain from all and sundry is a variant of: “Suhail bhai, company ke licences, kaagzaat woh sab lawyer aur CA log jaane. Lekin company munafa karti hogi tabhi tau barabar itne saalon se returns toh de rahi hai na?”. Translation: Lawyers and CA’s know the legalese. Unlike other fly-by-night operators this group has never skipped a beat for the last so many years. So everything must be in order.
Let me be upfront about this. During my reporting, I didn’t come across a single investor, who has lost money. There might have been some delays in profits or final withdrawal, but everybody has got their ‘due share of profits’ and principal. People have made money. The problem then? Almost everything. Let’s go through them one by one.
Nothing checks out
None of the Heera Group companies have approvals to solicit public funds. In an emailed response, a spokesperson at Sebi said: “Deposit collection by NBFCs/Companies do not come under the regulatory purview of Sebi and they are exempted from the definition of CIS under Section 11(AA) of the Sebi Act. Only one entity Gift Collective Investment Management Company Limited is registered with Sebi as a Collective Investment Management Company. However, no scheme has been launched so far by Gift Collective Investment Management Company Limited. Heera Gold Exports & Imports is not registered with Sebi.”
RBI’s list of NBFC companies that are authorized to solicit public funds under strict regulatory norms didn’t throw up any Heera Group firms either.
That’s a big, red flag.
How about other licenses? Food, BIS/ISI, Health & Safety.
Heera Foodex Pvt Ltd is registered at same address as HGEL and other group companies. The manufacturing/packaging unit is situated at:
Heera Foodex Largescale Manufacturing & Packing Industry, Etharpally Village, Nakkalapalli Panchayat, Moinabad Mandal, Ranga Reddy District, Telangana – 501504
This is the same plant which was inaugurated by deputy chief minister of Telangana in January ’15. And yet no company or plant by that name exists at that address. Nor is there any intimation of a change in location. Foodex continues to use the above address in their packaging and is selling these products in Hyderabad and Mumbai. They seem to fly under the radar by processing home-deliveries for orders over the phone. You wouldn’t know if you visit their website – heerafoodex.com or heerafoodbazar.com. The site lists three delivery locations – Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Mumbai. And two currency options INR and USD with the default set to USD.
Back in Hyderabad, after doing rounds of various offices at Commissioner of Food Safety, Health & Family Welfare at DMHS campus Sultan Bazaar, Koti, I was finally directed to food safety office located at IPM campus, Narayanaguda, Hyderabad. I met an officer, Niranjan, manning the Ranga Reddy district office who couldn’t locate Heera’s FSSAI licence in his records. In an emailed response, MA Khaleel, food safety officer, Ranga Reddy (R.R) District said:
“During investigation, I enquired the above said licence details, found that there is no such name/adress in Etherpally Village, Moinabad Mandal, Rangareddy District, and the above Licence number is not related to R.R District.”
Back in August ’12 based on a complaint by Member of Parliament, Asaduddin Owaisi, the Central Crime Station at Hyderabad Police had filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Shaik u/s 420 (cheating) and 406 R/w 34 IPC (criminal breach of trust). Earlier this year, in August, Shaik released a video clarifying this. She said this crime was thoroughly investigated by WCO (White Collar Offences) team of Hyderabad crime branch and closed due to “Lack of Evidence” and “Un occurred: False” information. Then in her own signature style, which I’ve come to identify only too well, with an air of righteous indignation she flashed copies of both the FIR and closure copy.
FIR closure as claimed by Shaik in a YouTube video addressed to the press
On my last day in Hyderabad, I visited crime branch and met investigating officer Harinath Babu of WCO, Team VI who is now handling this case. I then contacted and sent a query to the office of Avinash Mohanty, deputy commissioner of police, CCS, detective department. In an emailed reply, the department said that the “case is under investigation at present.”In September, I visited one of their outlets in Mumbai and bought a jar of milk powder. Not only did it have an invalid address and a missing FSSAI mark, but it did not have a batch number, manufacturing date or an expiry date. Absurd as this may sound, the neck of the jar had the words “MILKODAY” moulded on its plastic. Perhaps a brand, but whose? Certainly not of Heera Foodex. Similarly, underside of the jar had “Sri Lakshmi Hyd Foods” moulded on it. I couldn’t find any current company with such a brand of milk powder. Though there seems to be an abandoned trademark application.
There is some good news when it comes to the water business, Heera Pure Drops, conducted under Heera Retail (Hyderabad) Pvt Ltd. Vijay Kumar, district officer, Sangareddy, district in which the bottling plant is situated, told me over the phone that the FSSAI licence is valid until Oct’16 and that they’ve also applied for a renewal.
How about ISI licenses issued by Bureau of Indian Standards? Both water and milk powder fall under the category of mandatory certification. I visited Mr. Ameeruzzamaan in BIS office at Moula Ali, Hyderabad.
Good news: Heera Pure Drops has a valid ISI Licence.
Bad News: Heera Foodex Pvt Ltd hasn’t been issued any ISI licence for milk powder.
This fact is confirmed from the sample jar I’d purchased from their outlet too. It had no ISI numbers or any other BIS marking.
So, a company that claims to make at least 80% return on investments, tells you to pledge your Islamic values and your life’s savings to it doesn’t have any license to do most of the businesses that it claims to do.
None of it makes sense. Perhaps, only a matter of time till the house of cards comes tumbling down.
(Edit note: A sentence was changed in this copy for more clarity on Nowhera Shaik photoshopping herself in with Sushma Swaraj.)
Source : https://the-ken.com/the-long-con/