Hundreds of customers of the Goodwin jewellery chain were left high and dry after it shut its outlets in Maharashtra as the police moved to issue lookout notices against the company owners accused of cheating people of several crores through their schemes.
As nervous customers gathered outside some of the closed outlets in Thane and Palghar districts to seek refund of their investments, a video surfaced on social media showing the jewellery chain owners purportedly telling affected people that their money was "safe" and promised to return it.
The firm's owners and whole-time directors, A M Sunilkumar and A M Sudheshkumar, both brothers hailing from Kerala, were untraceable, police officials said on Monday.
In the video, Sunilkumar and Sudheshkumar, speaking in Malayalam (most of the customers are people from Kerala living in Maharashtra), said they have not fled the country.
The Thane Police is the process of issuing lookout notices against the owners of Goodwin Jewellers, they said.
The fraud comes close on the heels of the multi-crore scam at Mumbai-based PMC Bank, which has affected thousands of depositors.
The police in Palghar district on Monday also booked the jewellery firm owners under the Maharashtra Protection of Interests of Depositors in Financial Establishments (MPID) Act, which has provisions for stringent action against those cheating customers.
In the video, Sunilkumar and Sudheshkumar urged customers to have "faith" in them and claimed there was a "calculative move by some forces" to defame them and make their business suffer.
"We are examining the video," senior inspector S P Aahera, from Dombivali police station in Thane, said.
Goodwin Jewellers shut its outlets in Thane, Palghar and the Mumbai region a couple of days before Diwali, leaving hundreds of people, who had invested in their gold and fixed deposit schemes, in the lurch.
Several people who had kept gold with the jewellers, apart from participating in their other fixed deposit and investment schemes, found the outlets closed during the festival time when they were expecting disbursal of some of the promised returns.
"A process is underway to issue lookout notices against the jewellery chain owners to ensure they don't escape from the country," Aahera said.
The case may be transferred to the Thane Police's Economic Offences Wing (EOW) as the fraud could be running into several crores, the officials said.
As hundreds of people thronged police stations in their respective areas to lodge complaints, the Palghar police booked the jewellery chain owners under the MPID Act.
"We have sealed a shop of Goodwin Jewellers in Vasai (Palghar) for further action. We have invoked provisions of the MPID Act against the jewellery company owners as hundreds of investors have been affected," said Manickpur police station's assistant inspector Sudhir Zahirkar.
The first case against the jewellery chain was filed in Dombivali on Saturday under Indian Penal Code Section 420 (cheating), the officials said.
In the video message, the owners narrated their sufferings since the last one year and declared that the investments of customers were "safe" with them.
Though the company may be low on liquidity, Sunilkumar and Sudheshkumar said, they have sufficient assets with them to fulfil their commitments.
The trouble started with the Pune branch sometime back when a builder and another person made a demand of Rs 50 crore from them, the duo said.
"When we expressed our inability to make the payment they created trouble for us," the brothers said.
The Goodwin Jewellers's owners said they will not flee the country and dismissed as "rumours" of them having fled to Canada.
The duo said they were already facing legal issues and did not not want to add to their woes, and hence suspended the operations of their outlets.
As regards the Dombivali outlet sealed by the police, they said it can be resorted to them only after court orders.
Sunilkumar and Sudheshkumar said they were confident of staging a comeback within the next six months.
They appealed to people not to panic and said they would pay back all the investments as promised.
The Goodwin group has outlets in Vashi (Navi Mumbai), Thane city, Dombivali, Ambernath, Mira Road (Thane district), Chembur (Mumbai), Chinchwad, Bund Garden and Pimpri (Pune), besides Thrissur in Kerala.
Since the closure of the Goodwin outlets last week, angry investors, ranging from middle class to lower income groups like autorickshaw drivers and domestic helps, have been gathering outside the jewellery stores in a desperate bid to get their money back.
They have also been asking the police about progress made in the probe and on chances of getting their hard-earned money back.
As per the firm's website, Goodwin started manufacturing jewellery in 1992 in Thrissur, and stepped into wholesale business of jewellery in 1995. It entered the Mumbai market in 2004.
The company was founded by A G Mohanan, who later became its chairman emeritus and handed over the daily operations to his sons Sunilkumar and Sudheeshkumar.