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Sat Jul 30 03:53:59 SAST 2016

Promises broken, claim cops

BONGANI MTHETHWA | 14 August, 2011 03:34

Image by: Elvis Ntombela

Police in KwaZulu-Natal claim to have lost thousands after investing in an alleged pyramid scheme now being investigated by the Reserve Bank.

Some policemen, including senior officers, and Hawks members invested their life savings, while others took out loans to pump into Travel Ventures International (TVI) Express.

Last week, the Sunday Times revealed that the company, owned by Indian businessman Tarun Trikha, 27, was being investigated in Australia, the US, UK and China for violating consumer protection laws.

It has been established that investors, including members of the police, were promised:

  • Sizeable returns on investments and membership fees within eight weeks;
  • A free holiday accommodation voucher for a three- to five-star lodge or resort anywhere in the world for seven nights; and
  • Lifetime access to a portal where they are able to book discounted accommodation.

Lawyers acting for TVI Express's local operation this week denied it was a pyramid scheme, saying it was "a multi-level network marketing company that sells holiday packages, products and vouchers".

But several officers, interviewed on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals by management, said TVI Express did not deliver on its promises.

According to local auditors and investigators, investors in TVI Express pay a minimum "membership fee" of R2700. They then receive a "travel voucher", as well as the opportunity to receive commission for recruiting other investors.

Part of the probe by SA investigators is to determine if TVI Express is operating in contravention of the Banks Act of 1990. This week, TVI Express representative Wilson Jabulani Zulu, through his lawyers, Phukubje Pierce Masithela Attorneys, denied the operation was a pyramid scheme.

"It should be placed on record that our client denies that it is a scam and contends that it adheres to fair business practices," said the attorneys.

"(It) is not an investment company, but a multi-level network marketing company which sells holiday packages, products and vouchers to its distributors and, as result, was not obliged to comply with the provisions of the Banks Act of 1990."

But an officer of the Hawks, based in Richards Bay, said he and eight of his colleagues had paid R21600 into the scheme in September - and didn't receive their vouchers or the promised financial returns.

"It was agreed that we would get R108000 in return by a TVI representative, but, up to now, we have not received a cent," said the lieutenant.

A captain at Durban Central police station said he and dozens of colleagues had been lured with "promises of quick riches". He said he had invested R21000 in October and that he and colleagues were promised a R108 000 return in eight weeks.

He later received text messages notifying him that he had successfully joined TVI Express, as well as a " registration account " number. He has yet to receive either a voucher or the money promised to him.

Brigadier Makhosazana Shembe-Dotwana, head of inspectorate in KwaZulu-Natal, admitted that she had recommended TVI Express to some of her colleagues. She denied she was a representative of the company and had made "unfulfilled promises" to colleagues.

On Friday, Zulu, one of the directors of TVI Express's SA operations, said he was aware that some employees had misrepresented the company.

" But since the launch of TVI Express three years ago, we never said people would get money after eight weeks or any time, for that matter."

KwaZulu-Natal police spokes-man Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge confirmed that stations in the province had been inundated with complaints by the public about TVI Express' operations.

Asked how many cops had invested, Mdunge said: "We don't have the figures."

mthethwab@sundaytimes.co.za

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