Nowhera Shaik Image Credit: Gulf News archives

DUBAI: Heera Group investors in the UAE and other parts of the region have been left aghast after its CEO denied taking any money from them.

Enticed by guaranteed 36 per cent annual returns, thousands put their life-savings in the various Ponzi schemes peddled by Heera Group as Sharia-compliant investment plans.

Indian agencies investigating the scam say the investments of UAE residents alone tops Dh70 million. Hard disks seized from Heera Group offices show the group also collected Dh24 million from Saudi Arabia, Dh5.3 million from Kuwait apart from Dh2.9 billion from people based in India.

It’s bad enough that we lost our money, now Nowhera is denying she ever took it. How can she do that?
I have lost my job. This money is all that I had.

- Shahid Khan | Indian bus driver

However, its CEO Nowhera Shaik has claimed that she didn’t take any investment from people outside India.

Talking to media en route to an Andhra Pradesh court on Thursday, Nowhera challenged India’s Central Crime Station (CCS) to prove the allegations. “The investigating agency claims I collected Rs5,000 million (Dh265 million) from overseas investors. I dare them to show evidence that I took even Rs5,000 (Dh263) from them.”

Her rebuttal has riled up Gulf investors many of whom took huge bank loans and borrowed from private money lenders to invest in the dodgy group.

One of the deposit receipts issued by Heera Group to Indian bus driver Shahid Khan who invested Dh75,000 in the scheme. Image Credit: Shahid Khan

“It’s bad enough that we lost our money, now Nowhera is denying she ever took it. How can she do that?” said Dubai-based Indian bus driver Shahid Khan, showing deposit receipts worth Dh75,000.

“I have lost my job. This money is all what I had,” said the 59-year-old.

Another investor, A. Ahmad said he personally handed out cheques totalling Dh300,000 to Heera Group’s staff at their office at Fortune Executive Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) in Dubai.

“Nowhera’s claim that her company didn’t take investments from people outside India is preposterous,” said Ahmad.

“This is like rubbing salt in the wounds,” said Abu Dhabi-based Sarfaraz who pegged his losses at Dh70,000.

“Until recently the company was seeking time to refund our money. Now its CEO is denying it exists. I have had enough and am now filing a police complaint,” said another investor. Nowhera, 46, was arrested by Hyderabad police in October 2018 and later by Mumbai police for allegedly duping tens of thousands of investors. Indian police reckon the number of depositors could be around 175,000.

Nowhera was charged with cheating, criminal breach of trust and criminal intimidation and also booked under Telangana Deposits of Financial Establishment Act 1999 and The Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978. She was released on bail but was arrested by Andhra Pradesh Police on January 3 and remanded to judicial custody until January 10.

How investors were duped

In the UAE, Heera Group sought investments in three plans: Heera Gold, which promised monthly payouts of Dh3,250 against a minimum investment of Dh100,000 (lock in period: one year), Heera Textiles which guaranteed annual returns of 65-70 per cent against a minimum deposit of Dh15,000 (lock in: 2 years) and Heera Foodex where a Dh15,000 (lock in: 2 years) deposit was supposed to yield annual profits of up to 80 per cent.