Nowhera Shaik, who peddled different forms of gold investment schemes, was arrested earlier this week after multiple investors called her bluff.
New Delhi: She uses the prefix Dr, though she is not one, academically or by profession.
She has a political party that claims to represent Muslim women in India, but she has never won an election. She reportedly owns several properties abroad, and is a fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Nowhera Shaik, a businesswoman who heads a Hyderabad-based conglomerate of over 20 companies named Heera Group, is reportedly also a swindler.
Over the past seven years, she is said to have amassed more than Rs 900 crore by floating Ponzi schemes — the unsustainable pyramid-based returns scheme first introduced by 20th-century Italian conman Charles Ponzi — and duped thousands across India, the US, and West Asia.
Shaik was arrested by Hyderabad police on 17 October after several investors — two in Andhra and five in Karnataka — filed police complaints against her.
According to police, Shaik’s companies peddled different forms of gold investment schemes that promised annual returns of over 36 per cent on the original deposit.
In their investigation so far, Hyderabad police have identified more than 160 bank accounts of Heera Group across India where the money taken from investors was allegedly deposited.
According to Hyderabad police investigators, Shaik owns real estate worth Rs 100 crore in Tirupati, multi-storey buildings in Hyderabad valued at Rs 500 crore, hotels and clubs worth Rs 400 crore in Dubai, and other businesses in 43 locations in India and abroad.
Investigators said Heera Group began operations in 2010, and has now grown to 25 legal entities. Of these 10 are registered with the registrar of companies, Hyderabad, while only four filed balance sheets in financial year 2012-13. No records are available for the rest.
Invoked Allah’s name
Investigators describe Shaik as “very articulate, a good orator and a strong personality”.
In 2017, Shaik formed a political party called the All India Mahila Empowerment Party, with a diamond as its symbol. The party contested this year’s recent Karnataka assembly and is believed to have spent crores on campaigning, but could not win any seats.
Shaik is also a sworn supporter of PM Narendra Modi. Just recently, she released posters that had a photograph of Prime Minister Modi in the foreground, a bullet train, and her own photo at the bottom right. The accompanying message sought to congratulate PM Narendra Modi for launching the bullet train project and initiating the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
According to police, Shaik often invoked Allah’s name as she tried to convince investors to put money in her company’s schemes, which were marketed as a foolproof investment not subject to market risks.
“She would tell them that her company would take care of their money and promised returns on their investments,” an investigator said.
The victims told police that they were promised their investment back if the companies couldn’t manage to give them increased returns.
“It is strange how the investors fell for her talk and invested sums as high as Rs 1 crore,” he added.
Ponzi schemes see cons take money from investors on the promise of great profits, with the victims usually believing they are investing in a business. The prospect of easy money often convinces gullible people to invest their life’s savings into the schemes.
However, the masterminds deliver profits to the first set of investors with money taken from a second set, and so on, till there are too many depositors to pay back, and eventually go off the radar.
According to police, after they got an investor on board, Shaik’s companies would initially pay them interest to bolster their confidence and convince them to put in more money. When they did pay more, the operators would reportedly go underground.
“An initial interest was paid to gain investor confidence,” said an investigator. “Later, nothing was paid.”
Investors, police said, were asked to deposit the money in different bank accounts, and the sums then used to purchase immovable assets.
According to police, their investigation has brought them in contact with more than a hundred investors who claimed to have been duped by Heera Group Ponzi schemes.
It is learnt that the activities of Heera Group were also taken up by high-powered government panels in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and a decision taken that the complaints against it be looked into by the CID, the Economic Offences Wing or the Serious Frauds Office of India (SFIO).
In August 2012, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi also got a case registered against Shaik for allegedly cheating investors from his constituency.
In 2014, the Hyderabad zone of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) conducted a search on the premises of Heera Group and reportedly seized documents, including diaries, that showed hawala transactions.
“This is all ill-gotten wealth that does not have any record in any bank,” said an officer. “It was also found that the money was used to purchase luxury cars apart from properties across the world,” said an officer.
“We have also zeroed in on a few properties that were purchased with that money,” the officer added.
Investigators are, however, still trying to determine the source of this money.
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