In India, Fallout Over Celebrity Hype of $300 Million Bitcoin Scammer
India’s Enforcement Directorate, a federal law enforcement and economic intelligence agency, has called in high-profile British-Indian businessman Raj Kundra for questioning as part of an investigation into a money laundering case linked to Amit Bhardwaj’s recent $300 million USD bitcoin scam. Since Bhardwaj’s arrest in April, many domestic celebrities have reportedly been investigated for promoting his schemes.
Fraudster Lures Investors With Paid Celebrity Promotions?
Alleged fraudster Amit Bhardwaj, who was once known as a rising Indian bitcoin entrepreneur, had created an ecosystem of bitcoin-based Ponzi schemes that included e-commerce platform Highkart.com and India’s first bitcoin mining pool GB MIners.
To give credibility to these phony schemes, Bhardwaj sought celebrity endorsements — not directly for his schemes, but rather for promoting his book Cryptocurrency for Beginners. The book was promoted on social media by many Indian film actresses, including Shilpa Shetty, who happens to be Raj Kundra’s wife.
The celebrity endorsements on Bhardwaj’s Twitter timeline clearly resembled paid promotions although that dynamic is unverified as of yet. The concern is that these celebrities helped naive investors fall for these Ponzi schemes.
Last year, promoting Bhardwaj’s book, the now-summoned business tycoon Raj Kundra tweeted:
— Raj Kundra (@TheRajKundra) July 7, 2017
Soon after, a string of tweets from many film industry bigwigs including Neha Dhupia, Nargis Fakhri, and Huma Qureshi followed. However, after the scammer went on the run and was subsequently arrested by law enforcement, his Twitter account — and its echo-chamber endorsements — have dried up. Bhardwaj had allegedly hoodwinked 8,000 investors to the tune of $300 million before being apprehended from Bangkok in April 2018.
A Web of Crypto Scams
The arrest of Indian scam kingpin Bhardwaj and his brother Vivek have uncovered many new leads for the enforcement agencies. One such project is Aquaoin, a blockchain-based solution to India’s water woes with an aim to recycle wastewater and use it for human consumption. The project may sound awe-inspiring, but a closer look at its advisory board creates room for doubt. As reported on ANI, Aquaoin’s media adviser Subharansh Rai was the promoter of Bhardwaj’s ICO scam play “MCAP.”
Last year, the United States’ Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) told American celebrities to publicly reveal the compensation they received from promoting Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). So it’s a hype dynamic that’s definitely playing out across many crypto hot spots in the world right now.
Even with repeated warnings from the Indian government against fraudulent activities in the crypto sector, fraudsters like Bhardwaj have been able to lure naive investors with the promise of high returns. And, like the United States currently, India lacks an actualized regulatory framework to oversee crypto plays in the country. Regulations in the space can uphold the interest of citizens if conducted reasonably and judiciously.
Were celebrities aware of Amit Bhardwaj’s flimflam intentions? Share your views in the comments section.
Images via Hindustan Times, Daily Post