While there has been a lot of recent focus on the Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) Pyramid Scheme selling Enagic Water Ionizers in Bhutan, there is another MLM Pyramid Scheme that is growing in Bhutan in the form of QNet.
The modus operandi are very similar, in that people can become members on buying overpriced products, and the person doing the recruitment will get a commission.
The only difference is that QNet has its head office in Hong Kong, and is entering in Bhutan via a highly controversial franchise in India against whom multiple cases have been filed, and whose promoters have even been detained by the police in the past.
In India, its local affiliates or ‘independent representatives (IR) and most notably its main franchise Vihaan Direct Selling, are facing multiple cases and investigation in multiple states in India over its business model, and allegations of cheating its members and also money laundering.
QNet, in its earlier avatar of GoldQuest and its gold coin scheme, was already declared as a pyramid scheme by the Royal Monetary Authority in 2003 and it was prohibited in Bhutan.
A Bhutanese woman, Sonam (named changed), who has lost Nu 87,000 to the company told her story to this paper.
Sonam said that she was on Facebook when the feed threw up an online advertisement from a former Indian work colleague of hers who worked with her in an Indian company in Bhutan, and had moved back to India.
She contacted him and was told about QNet where she could make money by recruiting people down the line.
Sonam paid Nu 87,000 as fee to attend the ‘cost optimization’ online courses, which is supposed to be a marketing course, but she said the course actually gave her ideas on how to ‘drag people under her.’
Sonam said apart from some webinars, she was given some six online books, and so far, all she has been doing is attending online meetings.
She said she wanted her money back to her friend around a month ago, who agreed to return the money, but she has not heard from him since.
Sonam said that there are many Bhutanese who would have joined this pyramid scheme, and further said that she attended a meeting in December 2021 in Thimphu with another 12 to 13 Bhutanese people who were all there to join QNet. She said in that meeting she and others were encouraged to join QNet by local Bhutanese who told her she will learn new things.
She said the main QNet recruiter in Bhutan is a Bhutanese lady who has left for Australia but she has her associates in Bhutan.
A Bhutanese man who is currently based in USA also said that he had unknowingly entered the Pyramid Scheme in Bhutan called QNet and he ended up losing USD 1,800. He said he saw a lot of fellow Bhutanese joining too.
Another Bhutanese lady, Maya (name changed), said she paid Nu 170,000 to her recruiter in Bhutan for QNet, and she also received six books and was told she should get two weeks of online classes. The money would also get her a license from the company to sell its products to others to recruit them too.
Maya said she was told by her recruiter in Bhutan that not everybody can get into QNet and there is an ‘interview process’ and so she made it through the interview as she was found to be ‘capable’.
She said she was under the impression that this is a good marketing business that must also be brought into Bhutan. She was told the work hours are flexible.
Maya learnt that there are around 150 members in Bhutan for QNet and growing, and there are Bhutanese in Australia who are also involved. The members in Bhutan also include senior people in some State Owned Enterprises.
Maya learnt that the method with QNet, as in all MLM Pyramid schemes, is to recruit relatives, friends, friends on Facebook, etc. Maya, herself, was recruited by her cousin’s best friend.
However, as Maya read up on news about pyramid schemes in Bhutan she decided to withdraw. She approached her recruiter who told her that permission to withdraw can only be given by the Bhutanese lady in Australia whom she also approached. The Bhutanese lady in Australia, in turn, refereed her to a senior employee in Druk Green Power Corporation who approved her withdrawal, and got her money refunded.
When the paper talked to this senior employee in DGPC, the person said that she was not aware that QNet is an online pyramid scheme, and on learning about it, they did not do anything and cancelled the program and are giving people back their money. She said that she, herself, was introduced to it as a side hustle to make some additional income.
While this DGPC officer has made a claim of shutting down her end of the business, it is not clear if this is the same for others, given the large numbers of members in Bhutan.
The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) is currently looking into the Enagic Pyramid scheme in Bhutan, and once it is done, it is expected to investigate QNet next.
According to online sources, QNet was founded in 1998 in Hong Kong by Malaysian businessmen, Vijay Eswaran and Joseph Bismark.
The parent company avoids legal troubles by establishing local franchises while at the same time allowing it to earn money. Its members are called ‘independent representatives,’ (IR) and earn commissions after recruiting 6 people under them.
The parent company’s website sells 535 products in health, wellness, education, personal care, technology, watches and jewelry, holidays, home and living, but like Enagic it can only be bought by using the referral ID of an IR.
QNet is banned in some countries, and has been sued by countries, like Egypt, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Ghana for its product based pyramid schemes.