Mumbai: How 600 Mumbaikars were duped in car rental scam
Six months after investing Rs 2.2 lakh in scheme that promised Rs 35,000 a month and took care of vehicle EMI, investors realise they are victims of a multi-crore Ponzi scheme scam
Excited about the prospect of making an extra Rs 35,000 per month, Vikhroli resident Vaibhav Jadhav, 41, took a loan of Rs 2.20 lakh in October 2018 to sign up for a car rental scheme his friend had told him about.
It has been close to five months since he made the payment, but he hasn't received a single rupee he was promised. In addition to that, Jadhav only recently found out that he is one among almost 600 other people who were duped in the same multi-crore Ponzi scheme.
Jadhav is among hundreds of middle class citizens who not only took out bank loans, but also mortgaged their wives' gold in the hopes of making additional money. For some of the victims who are unemployed, this scheme was supposed to be their livelihood. Now, their money and the cars that were bought with it are both stuck.
Meanwhile, Jadhav approached the Vikhroli police to file a FIR on February 25 under sections 406 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code against one Maniesh Sethi, who operated the company M/s Sainergy Cabs 9, which used to have an office in Vikhroli East. Sethi, who is absconding, is said to be the mastermind behind the operation.
110 of the investors' cars are currently parked at a BMC-run parking lot in Chandivli
In the FIR (mid-day has a copy), Jadhav, who works for a pathological laboratory, has alleged that he was informed by a friend about the car rental scheme, wherein he had to deposit R2.20 lakh as initial payment against which he would enter into an agreement with Sethi's company. This would ensure him a monthly payment of Rs 35,000, while the EMI for the car, including maintenance, driver's salary and any damage would be the responsibility of the company.
Jadhav was also told that the car would be returned to him after five years. Not only that, the company was also going to arrange for 100 per cent of the finance for the vehicle.
Shutters are down at the rented office of Sainergy Cabs
An excited Jadhav promptly took a loan from HDFC bank for the aid amount and invested in the company on October 17, 2018. Four days after the payment was cleared, Sethi asked Jadhav to visit him in the office to enter into the agreement. However, he kept dilly-dallying on booking the car. Jadhav said he had been continuously following up with Sethi ever since. On February 25, he decided to visit him in his Vikhroli East office to enquire about the progress, "Only to see the shutters down and people gathered outside, all of whom were all duped." In the FIR, cops have taken 15 other complainants into consideration and estimated losses to the tune of Rs 51.80 lakh until now. However, the number of duped investors has only increased since.
Several investors cheated by Sainergy cabs gathered outside the Vikhroli station on Saturday to speak to cops about their losses, urging them to take strict action.
No yellow plates
One of these victims is Deepak Kamble, who'd booked two cars. He told mid-day that Sethi had two more partners in crime, Dilip Satra and Ronington Pithawala, who were named directors of the company. Both of them are absconding too.
Kamble said the company demanded a deposit of around Rs 1,80,000 as down payment for booking cars like Ford Aspire, Xcent and Rs 3,60,000 for high-end cars such as Creta, Eco Sport. Instead of making down payments to the car dealers, the company would send representatives of banks and private financial institutions to the investors' homes, complete all of the loan procedure and seek 100 per cent finance on cars against EMI. The car papers would be in the name of the investor.
Kamble added that an agreement was made for renting the car for five years for a monthly sum of Rs 35,000 per month, excluding charges for the driver, fuel and maintenance. "They did not book any cars after the initial payment was made. It was only when I did a sustained follow-up did I find out that two cars had been booked in my name as per their documents. I was called to their Vikhroli office for a pooja of the vehicles, but over there I noticed that the number plate on the car was white instead of being yellow, since they were supposed to run as rentals. Also, the agreement copy they made us sign did not mention any details about the vehicle; that information was left blank, and notarised on a R100 stamp paper," said Kamble.
He did ask Sethi about the number plates, "Sethi told me the company has been shortlisted to provide over 100 cars for a beverage manufacturing MNC in Bengaluru and will only be used by the staff inside the company's premises, so no yellow number plate is required. Sethi was a convincing communicator. He said the details would be filled once all of the papers are received. Also, he asked me to be concerned only about the monthly payment, and said the company would take care of the EMI. For the first two months, I received Rs 25,000 and the EMI payment, but since the last four months, everything has stopped."
Like Kamble, many other investors believe the total number of people who have possibly been duped in the scheme is over 600. Kamble said, "We have a register from the company's office, and it shows the entries of more than 250 people with their contact numbers. Many were still awaiting the booking of their cars. Moreover, some employees of the company who haven't been paid salaries also confirmed to us that the total number of duped investors might be over 600."
Over 100 vehicles stuck
This is not all. So many of the investors cannot even get their brand new cars, because around 110 of them are rotting away at a BMC-run parking lot in Chandivli, thanks to Sethi and co., who haven't cleared parking dues amounting to Rs 25 lakh for the past six months. Kamble added, "Both of my cars have been parked there.
The agent manning the lot won't release the vehicles unless the company pays the parking cost of Rs 25 lakh." Kamble said the parking agent is willing to cooperate after he receives the police complaint filed by the individual owners and a payment of Rs 25,000 per vehicle, including GST. "We are unable to understand the calculation, as according to us, the parking charges per vehicle should not be more than Rs 18,000 including GST, then why we are being charged Rs 25,000?" asked Kamble. mid-day reached out to Rakesh Tak, who runs the parking lot, but he remained unavailable for comment.
No due diligence
Victims are also blaming automobile dealers and financial institutions for not doing any due diligence before handing over the cars to the company and clearing 100 per cent loan on each vehicle. One of the duped investors said, "We suspect the involvement of insiders. Cops should carry out an in-depth probe."
Akhilesh Singh, DCP of Zone 7, said, "We have already registered an offence in the case and the investigation is underway. We will apprehend those involved soon." Sanjay Joshi, senior inspector at the Vikhroli police station said, "We have recorded the statements of nearly 60 people and will get more in the coming days." Asked about the number of people who might have been duped, he said, "It might be over hundreds of people; we will request others to come forward and lodge their complaint with us." Commenting on whether EOW or crime branch would take over the probe, he said, "As of now, we are doing investigations at the police station level."
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