Clients of MLM firm Sunshine Empire cry foul
Lorna Tan, Finance Correspondent
12 April 2008
(c) 2008 Singapore Press Holdings Limited
Many now worry they may lose their principal sums after their rebates were discontinued
PEOPLE who have put money with the controversial multi-level marketing (MLM) firm Sunshine Empire are crying foul after their monthly cash rebates were discontinued.
Many are also now worried about losing their principal sums worth millions of dollars.
Several participants have told The Straits Times that they have been offered an option by their 'upline' - the person who recruited them to Sunshine - to cancel their accounts in Singapore and transfer them to a Hong Kong company called EmMax.
They have been told that once the Hong Kong business is built up, their rebates will start flowing again.
The Straits Times reported in November that the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) was investigating Sunshine, as its activities appeared more like those of a pure investment scheme, for which it was not licensed.
The firm invites people to become 'merchants' of online goods, ranging from health supplements to electronics. Concerns centre on the fact that participants can potentially pocket big monthly 'rebates', which are not guaranteed, without ever buying or selling these goods.
The rebates are based on the participants' cash outlay, as well as Sunshine's global turnover.
Six Sunshine participants were applying for refunds when The Straits Times visited the company's headquarters in Toa Payoh yesterday.
One, who declined to be named, said he placed $12,500 in a gold plan in August. He received two monthly rebates of about $700 each, but these stopped once the CAD began its investigation.
Another participant, who also sought anonymity, said she was 'very worried' about losing her savings of $35,000, which she placed in four gold plans from November to early this year. Her rebates have ceased in recent months.
'If Sunshine is declared bankrupt, I will not get my money back,' she said. 'Can the authorities give direction on what to do?'
She will not transfer her accounts to Hong Kong, as she is unsure if the move is legal because of the ongoing investigation.
Sunshine adviser and spokesman James Phang denied any knowledge of the alleged Hong Kong option when he spoke to The Straits Times recently.
'I'm under investigation, so I'm not at liberty to reveal anything,' he said.
'To my knowledge, there were no meetings at Sunshine (about the Hong Kong option). People can come in and out. They can join any company. I have no control over the members. They are independent people.'
Mr Phang did confirm that Sunshine had stopped giving rebates in the past few months.
It was earlier reported that Mr Phang was linked to a failed investment scheme that resulted in 1,000 Singaporeans losing about $2 million.
The Consumers Association of Singapore's executive director, Mr Seah Seng Choon, cautioned participants against transferring their money to Hong Kong, as it would put their investment outside Singapore's jurisdiction.
'Recovering money from a foreign entity is always difficult if the company is unable to continue its operation here as a result of the current investigation,' he said.
Mr Seah advised consumers unprepared to stomach further risks to ask Sunshine for refunds - advice he also gave in November. He urged consumers to report to the police any new development or changes made by Sunshine.
Sunshine was placed on the Monetary Authority of Singapore's investor alert list in September. This means it is not allowed to conduct regulated activities.
It is reported to have attracted 20,000 clients since it set up in Singapore in July last year.
The police declined to comment yesterday, as its investigation was still ongoing.
Be careful of this new company Em-max.