Amit Lakhanpal at the Mumbai press launch of Money Trade Coin in October 2017. Photo: Youtube
Amit Lakhanpal at the Mumbai press launch of Money Trade Coin in October 2017. Photo: Youtube

Another day, another alleged crypto Ponzi. Money Trade Coin launched in October 2017 with the larger than life Mumbai businessman Amit Lakhanpal behind it.

Lakhanpal had a PhD, offices across the globe, associations with Bollywood stars and billionaire business partners who were princes from the UAE and Bahrain royal families. He had been written up by a host of media publications, including even Forbes, and yes, he owned an orange Lamborghini.

How this car, the de-rigueur ride for any self-respecting crypto billionaire, handled Mumbai’s famously choked and bumpy roads, remained unreported.

But what did seem clear was the world of trade, finance and cash was changing rapidly and Dr Lakhanpal – laden with an eye-dazzling amount of gold jewellery – promised to be the glittering emissary to introduce this brave new crypto economy to the everyday investor. And now?

Lakhanpal, alleges Indian media, is on the run after Mumbai police have accused him of masterminding a $75 million crypto-currency Ponzi scam. Offices associated with his Money Trade Coin, that promised “the world’s first blockchain based diamond trading platform,” were raided by police on Monday after an increasing amount of investor complaints, about – yes, you’ve guessed it – a lack of returns were followed by a string of associated media stories.

Put the words “India” and “Ponzi” and “crypto” into the world’s favorite search engine and you get hundreds of thousands of results. Many of them link to Indian-based scams, that are allegedly consistently being unearthed, while a fair few others go to Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley’s December 2017 warning that said: “There is a real and heightened risk of investment bubble of the type seen in Ponzi schemes which can result in sudden and prolonged crash exposing investors, especially retail consumers losing their hard-earned money.”

The Reserve Bank of India then, in early 2018, announced new regulations that effectively banned banks under its control from investing in crypto-currency markets.

Lakhanpal was actually at the forefront of a sequence of court actions, taken by India’s fledgling crypto industry, that sought to have the Reserve Bank of India anti-crypto actions quashed. Lakhanpal formally petitioned the Delhi High Court in May and argued that the bank ruling was “arbitrary, unfair and unconstitutional.”

“When we started our business,” Lakhanpal told local media at the time, “we wrote to all relevant ministries and officials to ensure that our business model was in line with all statutory guidelines. But these arbitrary decisions by regulators and certain financial institutions have jeopardized our business interests. Today, we have been made to look guilty in front of our investors for no fault of ours.”

Indeed, Lakhanpal should have had no problem communicating with the Indian government on any of this as he had claimed he was a member of a Finance Ministry “advisory board.” He claimed it again at a Mumbai launch event press conference for the coin in October 2017, hosted by model and Bollywood A-lister Lara Dutta, and was then repeatedly questioned by a journalist on it.

As the Money Trade Coin chief provided a string of contradictory answers, the man sitting next to him, who was introduced as “H E Shaikh Dr Khalid Mohammed Al Khalifa” and who was, the audience were told, “a member of the Royal Family of Bahrain,” shifted uneasily on his chair. The only online references to anyone called “H E Shaikh Dr Khalid Mohammed Al Khalifa,” somewhat oddly, link back to this Money Trade Coin event.

Similarly, on a video that purports to be from a Money Trade Coin “Global Press Conference” held in Dubai in April, Lakhanpal claims links to “partners,” the “H E Sheikh Saqer Al Nahyan” and “Sheikh Ahmad Bin Obaid Al Maktoum,” who are both said to be a members of the UAE royal family.

Like the Bahrain example, online references to these names only circle back to Money Trade Coin or to a website, rather clunky in appearance and approach, that claims to be from the private office of “Sheikh Ahmad.” The listed postal address on the site links to a supplier of construction aggregate while the phone number appears to be that of a property agent. Weird stuff, from some of the richest people on the planet?

This of course has all the makings of a very funny story. Except that $75 million, seemingly taken from ordinary Indian people, is reportedly missing. Sections of India media’s have been raising pretty detailed alarm bells about Lakhanpal and his crypto enterprise since the day it was launched and a cursory online check on him and his business entities show that the “UK registered” crypto currency was actually one of 22 businesses Lakhanpal had opened, via a postal company registration business in England, within the last year and most with the share capital value of just one GBP.

Money Trade Coin offered huge returns but seems to have delivered none. In crypto, as in real life, if it seems too good to be true, then, well … I think we all know the answer.

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