Markets in Chattogram have not yet recovered properly after the pandemic shutdown, but the VIP Tower in Kazir Dewri area is an exception. The offices of Annex Worldwide on the third floor of the mall are abuzz with some 200-300 people, mostly school and college students, at any given time.
They can be seen sitting in small cubicles and learning how to spread MLM business. They have been lured into the business with the promise of big earnings.
Annex Worldwide Limited is openly running business in the multilevel marketing (MLM) model despite the fact that there have been numerous scandals in the past over such business that have left millions of people bankrupt.
The company, which started operations in 2017, claimed it runs an e-commerce business but the way it is selling its products and services as well as collecting members resembles the MLM model.
Like other MLM companies, it promises its members huge earnings for collecting new members. It is also training youngsters aged 14-25 to run MLM business.
Those who were previously involved in various MLM companies, including Destiny 2000, Neway, UniPay2U, and Speak Asia, in the past have now teamed up with Rajib Mitra to form Annex Worldwide.
Rajib is a well-known figure in the MLM business in Chattogram. He held a key position at Destiny. He resurfaced and became active again in the MLM business through Annex after being in hiding for long.
In June last year, police arrested seven Annex officials on fraud charges. They are Rajib Talukder, Rajib Das, Robin Mitra, Uzzal Sen, Sumon Biswas, Apu Das, and Ranjit Guha.
The case filed against them is under trial at Chattogram Metropolitan Magistrate Court. The company's operation was closed for a while after their arrest but has resumed after the arrestees were released on bail.
Apu Das, director of the company, claimed it is not a so-called MLM organisation.
"It is a digital marketplace. It produces and markets daily essential products. At present, we have more than 100 products," he said.
Headquarters in Kazir Dewri
Near the entrance, various products are seen arranged in a room measuring around 150 square feet – the products include hand wash, hand sanitiser, and cosmetics.
Annex officials said these products of the Oura brand are made in their own factory. However, they could not give detailed information about the factory.
The products do not bear the approval seal of the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI). On 11 June, a mobile court of Chattogram district administration fined Annex Tk2 lakh for selling adulterated hand sanitisers.
How Annex runs business
Annex has all the tempting offers it uses to sell products and services. One can become a member by buying any package priced between Tk5,800 and Tk13,500.
If one can collect two more members, the person will start earning. A person's income will rise with the increase in the number of members collected.
In addition to purchasing products, one can also become a member by taking part in training courses, which include basic computer, digital marketing, spoken English, and beauty adviser.
Those who become members through courses will start earning money if they can bring in new course participants.
If someone can collect a member through the purchase of products or courses, they will earn 500 points. After earning 1,000 points, Tk1 will be given for each point. Annex is luring people saying they can earn up to Tk1.5 lakh per month this way.
A person has to pay Tk5,600 for basic computer course, Tk5,800 for spoken English, Tk6,000 for digital marketing course, and Tk7,100 for beauty adviser course.
What its members say
Ashiq Imran, who passed the Secondary School Certificate tests this year and got admitted to a private college in Chattogram, told The Business Standard that he had become a member of Annex through a friend by enrolling in a computer course for Tk5,600.
There is no MLM business that Rajib Mitra of Annex was not involved in. People fall prey to his charming training methods. I invested Tk10-12 lakh in his previous company Speak Asia but did not get any return
"My friend said I could earn up to Tk1.5 lakh per month. But I have not earned a single penny yet," he said.
A student of a private polytechnic institute, who did not want to be named, said, "Inspired by the words of a senior, more than 70 students of my batch have become Annex members. The way the company promised big earnings is not true. Annex is a lot like other defunct MLM companies, such as Destiny and Neway."
Ahmedul Hasan of Chawkbazar, who became insolvent by investing in MLM business in the past, said, "There is no MLM business that Rajib Mitra of Annex was not involved in. People fall prey to his charming training methods. I invested Tk10-12 lakh in his previous company Speak Asia but did not get any return."
Who founded Annex
Annex was established in 2017 by 20 people, including seven from Chattogram. They initially did business in Dhaka, but later started operations at the VIP Tower in the port city.
Rajib Mitra is one of the founders of Safe Private Limited, a local MLM company in Chattogram founded in 2001. Rajib was the Chattogram divisional head of various MLM companies, including Destiny and Speak Asia. He is currently leading Annex.
He went into hiding when crackdowns began after Destiny's fraud was exposed.
Rajib Talukder is the marketing manager at Annex. He was previously a diamond executive at Destiny and the divisional president of Destiny Distributors Forum.
Annex Director Rajib Das was a profit-sharing distributor of Destiny.
Robin Mitra, younger brother of Rajib Mitra, is the customer care in-charge at Annex. He was also a profit-sharing distributor of Destiny.
Apu Das, who previously worked as a senior executive at Speak Asia and UniPay2U, and Ranjit Guha are directors of Annex.
Local administration unaware of Annex MLM scheme
Chattogram Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Elius Hossain said he is not aware of Annex's MLM business.
"If that is the case, we will take legal action soon," he said.
They have been chargesheeted and the case is under trial. If the accused are out on bail and resume a similar business, the city corporation or the district administration can take action against them
He also said it is a crime to do MLM business by gathering school and college students during the pandemic.
"A company doing MLM business needs a licence. I am not aware of giving a licence to any company named Annex."
Mohammad Mohsin, officer-in-charge of Kotwali Police Station, said police had arrested seven Annex officials last year based on complaints filed by victims.
"They have been chargesheeted and the case is under trial. If the accused are out on bail and resume a similar business, the city corporation or the district administration can take action against them," he said.
Police can take action only if someone files a complaint, added Mohsin.
Robin Mitra could not be reached for comments despite several attempts.