Protest
According to the scheme, IMA Jewels promised to pay its depositors a return of upto 3% per month, if the company made profits.

‘Mansoor Khan is dead’, ‘Mansoor Khan killed himself’ - these were some of the messages that hundreds of people in Bengaluru received on their smartphones on Monday morning. Mohammed Mansoor Khan is the owner of IMA Jewels, where many have deposited in an investment scheme. As soon as the message started doing the rounds on WhatsApp, it triggered panic among those who deposited in the scheme and they rushed to the showroom on Lady Curzon Road, Bengaluru.

Since 9 am on Monday, the road saw a sea of protestors, both men and women, demanding back the lakhs (or even crores) of money they have deposited with IMA Jewels. A posse of police stood guard at the entrance of the showroom and tried to assuage the protestors. “When we came here, we learnt that Mansoor Khan is not dead,” said one woman, while another protester said, “He might have escaped as he could not return our money.”

There was a reason why the message on WhatsApp caused the panic. According to the scheme, IMA Jewels promised to pay its depositors a return of up to 3% per month, that is, if the company is making profits. Hence, if a person has invested Rs 1 lakh with the jeweller, he or she would receive Rs 3,000 per month. 

“But the return may also reduce by 2% or 1%, or no amount at all, if the company is not doing well. This is what the share certificate that depositors receive states,” Usma, whose family deposited Rs 11 lakh in the scheme, told TNM.

“Since the last three to four months, we have been receiving only one per cent of the amount invested,” Nigar Sultana, one of the protestors, told TNM. “Last week, I received a message from the jeweller saying that the remaining amount of the monthly return has been credited to my bank account. But this has not reflected in my bank account. All we see is a closed shop.”

This was the concern that brought the others to the footsteps of the jewellery showroom, established in 2016 by IMA (I Monetary Advisory) Group of Companies, led by Mansoor Khan.

In fact, even before the messages on WhatsApp surfaced, the depositors got wind of the problem in March. “When I realised my monthly return had reduced, I enquired with the jeweller to see if there was any setback. They attributed it to election season and other technical issues. He (Mansoor Khan) never told us the actual problem,” said a protester, who did not wish to be named, yet emphasised that they did their due diligence before investing in the scheme.

“That’s when people started applying to withdraw their money from the scheme,” added Usma. After submitting the relevant document, the depositor is supposed to get back the amount within 45 days, which, according to many protesters, has not reached their account yet. 

“We are poor people. Many of us gathered here invested our money in schemes for education, marriages and medical treatment. If the jeweller cannot return our money, let him at least give us the jewellery worth the amount we invested. We can sell these and get our money back,” said Shabana, another protester, who deposited Rs 2.5 lakh with IMA Jewels. 

The political angle

Along with messages being circulated on WhatsApp was an audio clip, allegedly from Mansoor Khan to the Commissioner of Police, Bengaluru.

In the clip, the man purported to be Mansoor claimed that the Shivajinagar Congress MLA, Roshan Baig (although he did not explicitly raise his name in the clip), had taken Rs 400 crore for him to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. “He refused to return my money when he did not get the ticket to contest. Instead of returning my money, he started sending his people to my office and house. There was a threat to my family’s life and so I sent them (family) to a village and I am in south Bengaluru."

However, Roshan Baig soon took to Twitter to dismiss the claims.

In the audio clip, Mansoor Khan goes on to ask the police to use his assets - Rs 500 crore worth properties in Bengaluru, 30,000-carat diamonds, as well as gold and silver - to pay off his depositors. “The BDA (Bengaluru Development Authority) has my money worth Rs 5 crore and so does the Shivajinagar MLA. Please take that money, too, and give it to the people,” he added.

A company with history of defaulting?

On November 16, 2018, the office of the Assistant Commissioner had published a public notice in a newspaper against I Monetary Advisory (IMA) Private Limited and its associates. The company was accused of illegally collecting money from the public and diverting it to its directors, thereby defaulting on the repayment of the depositor's money. In this case, several cases, too, have been registered under section 5 of the Karnataka Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishment Act, 2004.

According to Rahul Kumar IPS, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) - Bengaluru East, who was heading the talks with the protestors on Monday, the police filed a case in the matter after receiving a complaint on Sunday evening.

Based on 3,000 representations in the complaint, the police have registered a case under Section 420 (Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) and 406 (Punishment for criminal breach of trust) of the Indian Penal Code, a police official at the Commercial Street station told TNM.

He also urged the protestors to come forward and file a complaint with the police using whatever authentic documents, including challans, they have received from IMA Jewels.

“Only if we register all your complaints will we be able to understand the amount of money lost and how much you will receive,” said the DCP, adding that they have no clarity on the whereabouts of Mansoor Khan yet.

Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, too, responded in the matter, saying that the case has been handed over to the Central Crime Branch (CCB). "The government understands the fears of the investors and has taken the case seriously. The state government has directed Home Mnister MB Patil to settle the case soon. Action will be taken against the guilty," he tweeted.  

One section of protestors decided not to file a complaint. “It will only make matters worse as it involves frequent visits to courts and then spending more money,” said Basha Khan, who had deposited Rs 16 lakh.

Yet there is another section of protesters who are hopeful of receiving their deposits back. In fact, a few meters away from the showroom, a tiny photocopy kiosk suddenly saw a spurt of customers - the protestors who were scrambling to make copies of their original documents to file their complaints.

“Let’s see what happens,” said a protester, who was hurriedly gathering and pinning his documents to head to a church in Shivajinagar, which the police have turned into a makeshift police station to take complaints from protestors.

(With inputs from Soumya Chatterjee)