Dubai: Nearly five years after it was shut down and its Pakistani CEO subsequently convicted and jailed for fraud, MMA Forex — the foreign exchange trading arm of MMA Group — is back in business and seeking investments all over again.
If this is not worrying enough, the company is operating from the same building in Dubai’s Al Nahda area where it peddled a Ponzi scheme in the garb of a foreign currency trading programme, duping hundreds of UAE residents out of an estimated Dh40 million between 2011 and 2013.
Assured monthly returns ranging from 10 to 12 per cent on a minimum investment of $300, scores took bank loans and mortgaged their jewellery and homes to invest huge amounts of money in MMA Forex, only to lose it all.
Yet nothing appeared to have changed when we visited MMA’s 15th floor office last fortnight posing as potential investors.
As we were ushered into a conference room, promotional videos ran on a TV screen about the group’s ‘diversified’ portfolio that includes a heavy equipment industry and a private airline operating from Ras Al Khaimah airport.
If you didn’t know better, you could be deluded into believing that you were dealing with a multinational company and that your money is safe.
Fact is MMA has neither any heavy equipment industry nor any airline in Ras Al Khaimah and the GT suffix added to one of its concerns, MMA Bank, actually stands for General Trading.
MMA Bank GT is listed under “firms you should avoid doing business with” while MMA Forex is on the watch list of the Investor Alerts of the International Organisation of Securities Commissions. But this didn’t stop a MMA technical staff from demonstrating how we could make windfall profits by trading into foreign currencies.
“You can start with just $300,” said the man as he ran us through a demo account on his laptop and explained how we can register with MMA Forex and start trading in currencies and commodities.
It’s not clear how many have signed up with MMA Forex in their second innings.
What is clear though is that its audacious comeback has left previous investors angry and dismayed. On its part, MMA has repeatedly assured clients that it will not just refund them but also give them 40 per cent profit. So far no one has been paid.
For the 72 UAE-based investors who lodged police complaints against the company, even this empty promise has not been made. As a punitive measure, MMA Forex has allegedly blacklisted all such cleints and also ceased communication with them.
One such victim, Sikandar Lodhi, 32, said he is shocked beyond disbelief to learn that the company has reopened and functioning as normal. “When I visited them, I was told I have been blacklisted and my investment will not be returned. They said it’s a punishment for approaching the authorities. But I am not going to sit quietly. I will do whatever it takes to get back my money by legal means,” said the Ajman-based Pakistani who invested $120,000 (Dh440,000) with MMA Forex in 2012 -- a decision he regrets to this day.
Another victim, Mohammad Hanif, 38, also from Pakistan, said he has lost hope of recovering the ($38,000) Dh138,000 he invested with MMA Forex in 2012. “I took a bank loan to construct a house in my home country but ended up giving it to MMA Forex. Now it’s all gone down the drain,” said the father of four who was forced to send his family back as a major chunk of his salary is going towards bank repayments.
Father of two Zahid Aslam, 37, who lost $13,500 (Dh49,500) said he had borrowed the money from a bank. “I am struggling. When I visited their office seeking refund I was threatened and abused,” said Aslam who works with a local airline.
However, Zubair Ahmad, manager operations. MMA Group, refuted the allegations. “The owner of MMA Forex is no longer alive. His son who happens to be our CEO, was arrested over regulatory issues. MMA Group has no links with MMA Forex. We are not taking any investment on behalf of MMA Forex. We are here to just facilitate the payments of those affected by it,” he said.
Ahmad, however, didn’t give a time frame for returning their money. Neither could he explain why MMA Forex figures prominently on MMA Group’s website. He also said that MMA Bank should be read as Mamank. “It’s an Arabic term and should be read as one word,” he said. Never mind that the signboard behind the reception desk at MMA’s office spells it out as two words - MMA Bank with GT added as a suffix in a smaller font. Regarding MMA Airlines, Ahmad said that they don’t have an airline as yet but are readying to launch one. “Just like when you have kids and you start preparing for their future, we are also working on the airline’s launch from Ras Al Khaimah.”
But that’s not the impression one gets when one visits MMA Airline’s website which not only lists the destinations their non-existent carrier flies to but also claims to have a team of “dedicated professionals, including pilots, navigators, ATC controllers, flight engineers and airline marketing gurus, ensuring excellence in everything.”
In response to an XPRESS query, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, on Sunday, confirmed that no airline called MMA airline is registered with them.
Meanwhile, in a desperate attempt to preempt the XPRESS expose, the MMA Group’s CEO shot off a letter to investors and also released a video saying that journalists are out to blackmail him as they want money from him.
The case of the hidden identity
MMA Group denies any links with MMA Forex which they claim has ceased to exist, although the website of MMA Forex sits on home page of MMA Group (as of May 10) and their own staff showed how one can register with MMA Forex and start trading in foreign currencies when an undercover XPRESS journalist visited their office. MMA Group’s CEO claimed firm was owned by his father who has passed away. If MMA Forex doesn’t exist and its owner isn’t alive, then how is their website still operational? XPRESS investigations further show that the owner of the website of MMA Forex is using a service to hide his identity!
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With inputs from Sara Waqar, Dubai-based forex trader