A group of HNIs (high net worth individuals) have been duped by a former bank manager on the promise of 2-5% monthly returns on their investments from the stock market. Now struggling to get their money back, some of the investors are planning to go to the Supreme Court with the case.
Ameet Savant, who has been identified as a con artist was a manager with a leading private bank in Goa. He started an investment firm in 2014-15 and collected about Rs 54 crore (according to investigating officials) from some 80 retail investors in Goa.
Savant promised the investors high returns from derivative instruments like Index Stock Option Funds. Later, he diverted a significant chunk of the money for personal gains, using forged documents.
Investors have filed cases against Savant with the Economic Offences Cell (EOC) of the Goa Police. Savant was arrested by the Goa EoC sometime in 2019 and was denied bail in September 2020.
Savant has been identified to be a low-profile banker who was formerly a manager with HDFC Bank’s Porvorim branch, Goa. In 2015, he left the job and took a franchisee of Ventura Securities Ltd (VSL). As the business expanded, Savant set up his own private investment firm under the same name (Ventura) and diverted funds to that company without investors’ knowledge.
Savant even forged documents that carried the same format as VSL and its logos. The party went on for a good three years. But in late 2018, the returns stopped. That is when investors realized that they were being taken for a ride. The fraud came to light when Savant couldn’t pay interest to investors.
Investors allege that Savant connived with a financial services company called Crefin India to commit the fraud. When contacted on phone, an executive at Crefin said she was not aware of the case.
Carl Pinto De Andrade (62), who spent a considerable period working for a telecommunication company in Singapore, is a victim of this fraud who along with his family members, invested around Rs 5.8 crore in Savant’s firm. Now, he is not sure if he will get his money back.
“I was told by Savant that the money is safe and the returns will be regular. All the documents carried the VSL logo, stamp, and format,” said Andrade. We were made to believe that we are investing in the original firm but that was not the case. The money was diverted. It was a well-planned fraud,” he said.
Andrade is now planning to move the Supreme Court against Ventura Securities, Savant, and other accomplices. Around 80 other investors are facing a similar ordeal. However a detailed email to Ventura Securities CEO Hemant Majethia, on April 8, remained unanswered till the time of filing this story.
Savant is known as a familiar figure in Goa’s local circles. The former banker cleverly used the contacts he built during his working years at the bank to orchestrate the fraud, investors alleged.
“Anyone you ask will have a good opinion about Savant. He was a friendly, sweet-talking, diligent, and well-mannered officer who helped him win our trust,” said a second investor, who requested not to be named. He, too, is planning legal action.
Savant got his cheques mostly from his former clients and his club co-members, the second investor said. “He had shared with me and my family members the emails between him and VSL prior to him becoming a franchisee, representing VSL in Goa,” said Andrade in one of his statements to investigating agencies.
According to Andrade’s statement, Savant used copies of several emails between him and VSL to gain the trust of investors. They include emails permitting Savant to change the address, telephone number, and email as per requirements. Trusting the documents shown, Andrade and his family members made payments to Savant through HDFC Bank, Corporation Bank and Crefin through 15 transactions each, ranging from Rs 5 lakh to over a crore rupees, adding up to Rs 5.8 crore, between 2016 and 2018.
“Relying upon the representation of Ameet Savant and VSL, I, along with my family, invested our hard-earned life savings with VSL. Jeetendra Poddar of Crefin represented to me and my family members as the financial advisors partnering with VSL,” said Andrade.
The guarantee given to the investors was that Savant will invest the money in ‘Index Stock Option Funds’, which would provide a guarantee on the capital invested. “Accordingly, I and my family members collectively invested a principal sum of Rs 5. 8 crores in these schemes,” Andrade said.
Upon payment of the amount to Savant, investors used to receive letters from VSL, thanking them for the payment and assuring 2 percent returns. The letter guaranteed investors a monthly return/ interest of two percent, on or before the 10th of every month, after one month from the date of investment, with a lock-in period of six months.
“All the contracts are on the approved letterhead of VSL. It bears the rubber stamp of VSL. It bears the signature of Mr Ameet Savant as authorized under the Agreement executed by him with VSL,” said Andrade.
“The interest payments were regular till late 2018. It stopped one fine morning,” said the second investor quoted earlier. That is when investors sensed something was wrong. They demanded a return of their money but all they got were excuses.
The investors, including Andrade, subsequently approached the VSL office in Mumbai, seeking refund, citing the capital guarantee provided by VSL in the original contract. VSL contested in the letters that it never received the money from them. “The contention was that… there was no privity of contract between VSL and us. By the said letters, it was further denied that deposits were invited through M/s. Crefin. It was stated that Ameet Savant had no authority to make any commitment on behalf of VSL,” Andrade said.
“It was denied that the principal investment/deposit was received and any payment towards the 2 percent return was made to me and my family,” said Andrade. The investors’ contention was not accepted by VSL, following which they approached the Economic Offences Cell in Goa.
The National Stock Exchange (NSE), in a letter to EOC dated February 12, 2020, reported certain non-compliances by Ventura, including the execution of KYC documents. The exchange is in the process of initiating disciplinary action against Ventura, the NSE letter said.
Addressing the issue, JN Gupta, former executive director of Sebi stated that fraud cases like these have happened in the recent past also where investors, seeking higher returns, have lost money after investing in high-risk financial instruments such as AT1 Bonds and papers of low-rated companies. “It is a clear-cut case of fraud. Neither Sebi nor VSL has anything to do with it. Greed is always wedded to grief. These investors should have cross-checked with the brokerage directly, whether they are getting proper statements and whether all the right processes were followed,” said Gupta.
But the investors strongly don’t agree with this view. “All documents were forged. How were we supposed to find out the difference?” the second investor said.