Dubai: The patience of Sunfeast Infotech investors is running out.
With the troubled Indian firm deferring the much-awaited repayment schedule which they had promised to issue on Wednesday, hundreds have approached Dubai police.
Earlier this week, scores laid siege to Sunfeast’s new Al Nahda office where at least two threatened to commit suicide.
“I’ve taken a huge loan from a money-lender. They will kill me if I don’t pay back so I would rather take my own life,” a distraught Indian man told XPRESS outside Sunfeast’s 12th-floor office at Mai Tower, where angry investors were involved in an eight-hour sit-in on Sunday.
Another man, also Indian, said he will throw himself from the tower if the outsourcing firm didn’t refund his Dh100,000 soon. “They will be responsible for my death,” he warned.
Both declined to give their names or contact numbers.
They may want to approach Dubai police after reading this report.
It has now emerged that the few who got their money back this week are those who lodged a police complaint.
XPRESS spoke to several such investors over the past two days.
“I got a call from Al Rifa’a police station asking me to come on Tuesday morning. I was taken to a first floor room where Sunfeast staff took my invoices and passbook and handed me Dh34,250 out of the Dh35,000 they owed me. I don’t mind losing Dh750. I am happy with what I got,” said an Indian man who was among the first to lodge a police complaint. “I thank God and Dubai Police for helping me recover my hard-earned money,” said a Lebanese who retrieved Dh2,500.
But it’s not clear if going to the police now would help as complaints about the case were no longer being entertained when XPRESS visited Al Rifa’a police station on Wednesday morning.
All investors were told to get their refund directly from Sunfeast itself. The development left many in a quandary.
“Where do I go from here? Sunfeast’s Oud Metha office has been sealed by authorities, their Al Nadha office is shut since Sunday and the firm owners are still behind bars,” said a crestfallen Filipino woman. She risked Dh25,000 taken from a loan shark at high interest.
The fiasco, first reported by XPRESS on May 9, has hit over 6,000 Dubai families. Several of them are now on the verge of bankruptcy.
Fears are growing that the Sunfeast saga could impact UAE banks as many people have taken huge loans and swiped their credit cards at the firm’s office to buy thousands of typing projects.
“I don’t know how I am ever going to repay my bank,” said Pakistani Tahir, 34, showing an SMS reminder sent by his bank. He took Dh100,00 in April and his first installment is due this week.
Tahir was among those who stormed the firm’s Al Nahda branch on Sunday demanding immediate refunds. As the scene turned ugly, the Sunfeast staff packed their bags and fled in a jiffy. But the investors refused to budge. Not even when the staff switched off the power, leaving them in the dark literally and figuratively.
The firm’s representative Radhai Gopalakrishan blamed the fracas for scuttling the ‘payment schedule’. Her email to investors on Wednesday read: “...we tried our best to keep our promise of publishing the schedule on 22nd of this month. Due to the inconvenience caused by the customers in our office at Mai Towers on the second day of opening, we were forced to shut it down.” She said the office will reopen only with security personnel, adding that the closure hindered their “precious work” to pay their customers. “We request all our brothers and sisters to be patient and trust us till Monday to get permission for security and reopen for issuing the payment as we did yesterday [Tuesday] and today [Wednesday] at Al Rifa’a police station in complete obedience.”
But Radhai evaded pointed questions about the size of Sunfeast’s customer base in the UAE and the amount at stake. “Our client base cannot be disclosed and shared to anyone unless required in business with mutual interests… regarding the funds, directors were handling the issues. I was not in the picture and hence cannot comment,” she wrote in an email to XPRESS. She also did not respond to queries about Sunfeast’s heavily plagarised website.
“We are working with authorities to bring out our directors on bail to process complete payments to our valued customers. This exercise is on... upon their grant we assure everybody their payments within 10 days. We have started paying clients who complained at Al Rifa’a police station in which all the payment given is deducted from the capital value with termination of the contract,” she said.
Radhai said she cannot comment on the company’s future plans until the probe is over. Evidently, her assurances have not gone down well with jittery clients. “They are a scam and I think they just want to wear us down. Now I don’t even have money to pay my child’s fees,” said a Filipino man.
“I do not have money for food or rent.. I took a loan and advance salary from my office. Now I do not have a single fils,” said an Asian investor. A Nigerian who forked out Dh100,500 said he is at his wit’s end.
But investors on a dedicated Google group forum are confident the company will tide over the crisis. Various posts here said Sunfeast will reopen soon and people will not just get back their full refund but also continue getting lucrative outsourcing jobs.
This optimism appears to stem from a news report in which Sunfeast’s PRO Jamal was quoted as saying that every fils would be returned. Intriguingly, Jamal denied speaking to the media at all.
A news report (not XPRESS) quotes Sunfeast’s PRO Jamal as saying that ‘every fils of investors will be returned’. But his conversation with an undercover XPRESS reporter shows he’s either lying or never made that statement. If that is not worrying enough, he appears to be as much in the dark about his own investment as others.
XPRESS: You have been quoted by a newspaper saying all investors will be paid in full.
Jamal: They claim that. My money is also stuck. I am also waiting.
XPRESS: But you said everybody will be paid in full.
Jamal: I never said that, I never spoke to any reporter. I never complained to any reporter.
XPRESS: But your name has been published, Jamal. You’ve been quoted saying the company has been running for 20 years in India.
Jamal: No, no, no. I never said that. Till now I have not complained. My Dh300,000 is also stuck. I also invested, I’ve been working with the company for just five months. My friends and relatives have also invested.
An audio-recording of the entire conversation is on tape with XPRESS.
Sunfeast Infotech is not to be confused with ITC Sunfeast which is a major Indian brand into biscuits and other products.
The story so far
2012: Enticed by big returns, thousands take Sunfeast’s typing jobs at Dh500 apiece
April 29: Authorities shut Sunfeast’s Oud Metha office. Owners jailed but staff play down incident.
May 7: XRESS reports 6,000 families hit as Sunfeast says it will reopen on May 15 and pay back investors.
May 15: Office remains shut, and reconciliation meet with investors remains inconclusive.
May 19: Newly-opened Al Nahda branch stormed. Company promises repayment schedule by May 22
May 22: Repayment schedule deferred till May 27