IT was an investment plan that looked too attractive to pass up. After all, the plan had the backing of a company that had been in the market for more than 30 years.
Events organiser *Casey was first introduced to the plan in April 2008, when interested members like him were asked to open their master accounts.
Casey was one of the pioneer members of the scheme and thought it would be a good opportunity to earn some extra cash.
The scheme was offered to the public at between RM3,000 and RM30,000.
However, a year and three months down the road, that “investment” turned out to be his biggest mistake when the company failed to pay his returns or commissions and even froze the accounts so that no withdrawals could be made.
“The company told us that our bank accounts were frozen by a bank as it was conducting investigations on credit card fraud.
Boarded up: The shutters at the outlet in Bukit Bintang have been pulled down.
“We later found out that was a lie. The company initially put the blame on Maybank but later omitted the name of the bank,” Casey said.
The initial stage was designed with four plans that members could opt to buy — at a starting price of RM3,000 per lot — the Master Plan Classic (RM3,000), the Silver Plan Classic (three lots) at RM9,000, the Gold Plan Classic (five lots), and Platinum Plan Classic (10 lots).
Members also had to fork out an additional RM100 for an administration fee.
“When the response picked up, the company increased the price per lot to RM4,000,” Casey said.
For their investment, members received a membership prepaid card that entitled them to dine at the chain of air-conditioned mamak outlets.
The prepaid card was first valued at RM1 for one point and members could redeem meals using their points, but in December, it was turned into a discount card.
Another member *Daniel said that sometime in July or August last year, members began to stop receiving their monthly returns.
“We knew of a grandmother who had invested her savings of RM80,000 in the scheme but got nothing in return,” Daniel said.
In October, the company introduced another type of plan — called the EZ Plan — where the starting fee was just RM300, followed by RM900, RM1,500 and the highest at RM3,000.
“It was a less expensive plan for members to join and returns were supposedly faster.
“But, by then, many of us were not interested and we only wanted our earlier returns and investments back,” Daniel said.
Several members investigated the company and discovered that it did not have a licence under the Direct Sales Act 1993. However, the company denied that it practised multi-level marketing.
“They said they were a membership-based company but the form still required members to name their sponsors and find more members,” a disgruntled investor said.
*Janice said the company continued to rope in new members throughout the period and promised returns for all.
“Recently, they claimed to be under the Easy Pha-max banner, but the latter denied that such a deal had been made,” she said.
A call to the parent company revealed that Steven’s Corner was no longer affiliated with STG Resources Sdn Bhd, which had come up with the scheme, and that STG was under a different management.
Initially, STG’s brochures had stressed that Steven’s Tea Garden was a new concept restaurant under the Steven’s Corner group.
When contacted, an operator at STG Resources headquarters in Setapak claimed that it had teamed up with another big corporation and would be coming up with a new plan.
However, a spokesman for the corporation denied that any deal had been struck with STG Resources Sdn Bhd.
Meanwhile, Steven’s Tea Garden outlets in Sunway Pyramid, MidValley Mega Mall, Jalan Bukit Bintang and Ampang have been closed down and as many as 50 former members have sought the help of Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Lun.
Fong said he had arranged for the victims to meet Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob to highlight their plight.
“I’ve also forwarded the case to two other ministries — the Finance ministry and the Home ministry.
“This is a clear-cut case as the company is using a MLM plan without a licence and is still soliciting money from the public,” Fong said, adding that they would meet the minister again soon.
Meanwhile, 12 victims, who had collectively lost about RM1mil, have formed a pro tem committee to help others out.
The committee said they knew there were risks investing in any business but they claimed that STG had not been truthful or transparent.
“The company is misleading people and collecting money from the public without a licence.
“The government has to take serious action in this case and about 1,000 police reports have already been lodged against the company,” they said.
The group is also seeking legal advice but admit that the chances of recovering their money was slim.
Steven’s Corner CEO Gunalan Sinnapan, meanwhile, said the Steven’s Tea Garden trademark was registered to him and he had pulled the name back following the scandal that had smeared his image.
“Previously, the directors approached me as they wanted to use our name to come up with the MLM concept prepaid food card.
“We were only asked to manage the outlets and supply the food while they carried out the marketing plan.
“However, we also did not receive any payments for six months before they told us they would change the concept as their application for a licence had been rejected.
“Our Steven’s Tea Garden outlets were actually doing well until the MLM plan collapsed entirely,” Gunalan said, claiming that STG Resources had already signed up some 30 merchants that allowed existing Steven’s Tea Garden members to redeem their food points.
When contacted, STG Resources CEO Mick Yap said the case was being handled by MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Michael Chong and declined to comment.
He only said that solutions had been found but the plan was a business failure.
However, Chong said he would not interfere as it had already been exposed by the media.
“The company representatives had told me there was a rescue plan, and all parties agreed to keep it out of the media.
“However, because the investors also went to see Fong (Kui Lun), the issue attracted publicity and I want to leave it to the police to investigate,” Chong said.
“We had three meetings with them and STG Resources showed us its 2008 internal audit report, but my lawyers have demanded the 2009 accounts, which the company said it would furnish by March.
“The company told me it could have run away but did not as it was prepared to face the music if found guilty,” Chong said.
(* Names have been changed to protect identities.)