Arch Trademark Pvt Ltd

More than 600 Bhutanese youth trapped in a Ponzi scheme in Siliguri

The youth are mainly from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds

There are currently more than 600 youths working under a ‘company’ in Siliguri named Arch Trademark Pvt Ltd. that also claims to be a registered agent with the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR), according to the statement by one of the youths who escaped the place.

However, it has been confirmed that the agency by the name is not registered with Labour Ministry as they have professed to the youths.

The Bhutanese talked to three of the victims whose names have been changed to protect their identity as they are fearful of any backlash.

The 20-year-old escapee from the company, Yangki (name changed) said that the Bhutanese youths have been lured into the prospect of accepting a job offer from the company promising guaranteed employment.

Yangki said that the company promoted itself as a renowned fashionable garment dealer in Siliguri and that the Bhutanese youths would be paid a minimum salary of Nu. 20,000- Nu. 25,000. Like Yangki, about a hundred youths escaped from Siliguri after realizing that they have been duped.

Yanki and her friends told The Bhutanese that all the youths who’ve availed the scheme come from very a disadvantaged sphere of livelihood, of which most of them are unemployed, school dropouts who are in desperate for jobs, decent livelihood and any government help.

She said that the rest of the youths still have the option to return back, but since they have invested most of their parents’ lifelong savings in the scheme, they are unable to face their families back home and with no other option to earn money, they are waiting to at least get the return on the amount they invested.

“We fear that if timely interventions is not taken, there is the possibility that the people involved with the supposed ‘company’ might shift from the current location and ask the youths working there to completely cut off communication with any one of us in Bhutan. I had my doubts and upon my findings, I came to know that the company has been shifting its base of operations,” said Sonam (name changed), who also escaped from Siliguri.

“We assumed that the job was similar to being a salesperson in the garment shops and they said they have direct selling business and we will be referred as ‘distributors’ or promoters’ once we have completed the training. However, we realized that we have been deceived as there is no garment company as such. Our primary job was to lure in more Bhutanese youths into the schemes, get them to invest and have them lure more, whereby increasing the network and the earnings from such practice,” she added.

As a part of the training, they had final session called ‘calculation system’ which the youths said was the most influential in encouraging them to join the scheme. “Calculation system made me change my mind to stick with the company and it also completely brainwashed all my inhibitions and enticed me with the prospect of huge earnings,” said Sonam.

In the calculation system they are familiarized about the different ranks and the youths have the option to make initial investment in any of the ranks. The first rank is called Franchise, where they are required to invest Nu. 7000, the second rank is called Barron with an investment of Nu.35, 000 and third is called Counts, where they are required to invest Nu. 1, 05,000.

After that if they are able to bring in certain numbers of ‘prospects’ or investors they will be promoted as pre-marques and then to top level called the Marques who supposedly enjoy a lot of financial benefits. The higher their investment the higher their commission and especially if they are able in bring in a minimum of five prospects.

The youths said that since reaching Marques level is very difficult, there are only two Bhutanese Marques at the moment, Amit Ghalley (real name) and Meena Rai (real name) who are in their mid-twenties. Amit Ghalley is also said to the first Bhutanese promoter of the scheme.

As a part of the closing session of the training, the youths have to sign a three-page undertaking which states that they’ll take every risk and the company will not be blamed.

Similarly, they also have to partake in a video recording undertaken through a laptop cam, declaring that they joined on their own will without any persuasion from the company, and in case if there is a company shutdown, the company will not be liable for the loss of jobs or money that they’ve invested and, that youths will take all the risks and blame upon themselves.

After the training, the youths are sent home for a week to fetch the money according to the ranks they wish to avail.

“We were highly encouraged by the company to invest in the third rank called Count with an investment of Nu.100,500. We came home deeply motivated and somehow convinced our parents to give us the money on the condition that we’ll return the amount within a month or two,” said one of the victims, Leki Pem (name changed).

She said, “We were given a grand treatment during the training and they emotionally captured us in a session called ‘Three Whys” where they invite seniors of higher rank to share their initial struggle and their current success stories; there were no reasons for me and my friends not to return to the company with the investment money. The ‘Three whys’ is an emotionally powerful session enough to make you decide your future with them.”

They said that after they realized it was a scam and the implications it might have on the lives of more Bhutanese youths, they didn’t want other youths to suffer the same fate, which is why they decided to goto the media and higher authorities. Some of the youths who’ve returned also managed to bring along with them the friends whom they initially influenced and brainwashed to join the scheme. “We have discouraged other youths to opt for the same,” said Sonam.

“After the promoters of the company heard about the recent media report about them, our friends there told us that they were told that two Bhutanese Marques from the company will soon leave for Bhutan to discuss with the government on the legality of such practice,” she added.

However, the youths said they have been hearing the same promise since time they joined the company but it never happened.

“Those youths who’re still working in Siliguri have been asked not to be concerned about the news and that there is nothing wrong with the scheme. My friends told me that after the news surfaced, the people involved with the scheme have been trying to provide better facilities and are trying to keep them highly motivated to stick around,” said Sonam.

Yangki was initially approached by a Bhutanese woman on social media who allured her with attractive offers and guaranteed employment.

As it unveils, one of the principal and easy strategies used by the employees under the company is to prey on the youths who are active on the facebook groups like, “Bhutan Job Vacancy Available” which currently has about 135,218 members among other similar facebook groups where youths are desperately seeking for employment opportunities.

Since Yangki also engaged in liking, sharing or commenting on such forums, she became prey to one of the ‘promoters’ of the company, which is how she ended up in Siliguri.

Apart from that, during the training session called ‘Unsell System’ they are taught to invite their trusted friends, relatives, acquaintances, and families even, without mentioning the need to pay the amounts after the training.

They are encouraged to take loans if they do not have the money by promising full recovery within few months. “We are asked to lure in more prospects by providing the job description and mentioning that they don’t require higher qualification, will be promoted within a short period, there is flexibility of timing, they need not be under any bosses and that there are high financial gains,” said Yangki.

The three youths told the paper that with one ‘prospect’ influencing the other, the Bhutanese network drastically increased within a few months. It is known that there are youths who were on their semesters breaks and after being influenced by their friends or the promoters, they have left their studies mid-way to pursue the scheme.

The victims of the scam also said there are married individuals but mostly secondary and high school graduates are involved with the scheme. “There are also few married couples and mothers who have brought their child along and work there.”

The majority of theses youths are from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds and come from rural areas of Bhutan.

Once in Siliguri, the ‘promoters’ are housed together in very compact and filthy apartments ridden with garbage. Their only job is to lure in more people online to invest.

As far as they are aware, youths from India, Bhutan and Nepal are the targeted groups for the schemes. With huge number of Bhutanese youths pouring in, there are possibilities of drug abuse, alcoholism, prostitution and suicide among others .

Currently the case is being followed-up by higher authorities. MoLHR declined to comment as the case has not been registered with the ministry yet.

About Sonam Yangdon

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