A gold-trading business shut down this month by Malaysian authorities for suspected illegalities may have raised as much as $3 billion from its clients, a government official said Wednesday.
Authorities raided trading firm Genneva Malaysia on October 1 on suspicion of taking deposits illegally, money-laundering and tax evasion, and later expanded the crackdown to three other firms.
The raids have sparked anger from thousands of clients of such firms, who have petitioned authorities to let operations continue and have threatened to hold anti-government demonstrations over the issue.
But authorities have defended the crackdown, and Deputy Finance Minister Awang Adek Husin told lawmakers on Wednesday that Genneva Malaysia alone had taken in some 10 billion ringgit ($3 billion) from customers.
“The information that I have is that there (are) 35,000 (Genneva) investors that can be detected, but the total investment can reach 10 billion ringgit,” Awang Adek was quoted by local media as saying in parliament.
An aide confirmed his remarks to AFP.
The controversy has focused on Genneva due to the reported large size of its business, but authorities also raided Pageantry Gold, Caesar Gold and Worldwide Far East. Authorities in Singapore also seized Genneva assets there.
Customers deposited money with the promise they would be given gold bars of equal value as well as interest earnings on their deposits. The businesses began operations within the past few years.
However, in a joint statement Malaysia’s police, central bank and consumer affairs ministry have called the schemes risky.
“The concern is that such companies are operating schemes believed to be not sustainable. Such companies promised high monthly returns to the investors and a guarantee to buy back the gold,” the statement said.
The government has promised a speedy investigation.
The raids angered thousands of customers who insist the businesses were legitimate, and Genneva clients have launched a petition calling for it to be allowed to resume operations.
The petitions warned that signatories would otherwise vote for the political opposition in elections due next year that are expected to be closely fought.
Genneva customer Chandran Kutty, 56, told AFP he bought a gold bar for 200,000 ringgit and was earning 4,500 ringgit monthly from interest and commissions for introducing new clients, but “now all that is gone.”
“It is a nightmare. I never expected this to happen. We were doing a genuine business,” he said, adding that clients were drawn to the scheme because low interest rates in Malaysia have made bank deposits unattractive.