Aalima Nowhera Shaikh is a businesswoman and less known politician. She is the executive chairperson and founder of Heera Group and founder and president of the All-India Mahila Empowerment Party. This political party is trying its luck in Maharashtra. Nowhera Shaikh was arrested by the ED in 2019, along with others, over a case booked against her under various sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). That same year, the Telangana and Maharashtra police also arrested her in similar cases.
The ED suspects her for hatching a “well-planned conspiracy and luring innocent people to deposit their savings with her for-profit sharing rather than interest.” Authorities said that Nowhera Shaikh collected deposits to the tune of Rs 5,600 crore from around 1.72 lakh investors and made false promises of paying a high rate of returns like that of 3% per month or 36% to 40% per year. For this fraud, she had opened around 250 accounts in various banks across the country and they opened eight accounts in UAE and Saudi Arabia. They diverted the depositors’ amounts to their personal accounts for and amassed huge movable and immovable assets.
She started out as a hawker, selling vegetables alongside her mother in Tirupati when she was in her teens. Later on, she somehow came in touch with a Dubai businessman and planned to pitch investors in India. She formed 17 companies which would boast of 2 lakh-plus investors across the southern and western states and have a combined turnover of over Rs 1,000 crore.
The turnaround in fortunes seems more dramatic when one considers all the stops in between: over the years, she managed to get a degree in business management, started a madrassa for girls, and even formed a party to contest polls in Karnataka. But Nowhera Shaikh’s downfall was the outcome of the same expansion that brought her success. As the 45-year-old burqa-clad single mother spread her reach over seven years using a Ponzi scheme – offering returns of 36-42% – her offices and agents in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh drew in more and more investors; there was a whiff of a hawala scandal somewhere.
By May 2018 Shaikh had begun defaulting on payments, eventually leading to mismanagement of funds, chaos and police complaints. It was a Rs 500-crore cheating case. Shaikh was in the custody of Mumbai police after they apprehended her in Hyderabad. Mumbai police’s economic offences wing (EOW) arrested her on October 25 on a complaint by an investor named Shane Elahi who faced a default. Over the past few days, national intelligence agencies have dropped in to discuss the case. Most of her investors are from the Muslim community, whom she promised an interest-free halal business.
From their paid campaigns to staged press conferences, Shaik received an award by UAE Minister for Business Leadership Icon In 2018. When she realised that the controversy may spoil her fate in politics, she announced that the customers who want to take their money back must be ready to bear the losses too as they had agreed to share both profit and loss. Citing the reason for the loss, she said that her entire business was on standstill due to a number of cases filed against her.
Giving the statistics of the amount returned to customers, she claimed that so far, Rs. 3.50 crore has been paid to those who had filed cases against her company. She said that the amount is being paid to customers who are approaching the company with genuine documents. Meanwhile, her political ambitions were shattered because of the cases filed against her and she wants to enter into politics. Gradually, the Supreme Court allowed her company to sell 87 properties for settling investors’ claims.
While passing orders, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said, “Make selling of property as First Task now.” For several lakh investors allegedly duped by Nowhera Shaikh getting back their invested money was a tough task. The Supreme Court, while granting Nowhera bail in January, had laid down a condition that she should repay back her investors within six weeks. In attempts to comply with the Supreme Court’s bail conditions, the Heera group had issued cheques amounting to Rs 8 to 9 crore in Telangana. But they issued these cheques in the name of those investors who had filed a complaint with the police. The names of others, who were mentioned in the FIR, were ignored. We know corruption and politics is not new but here is one more addition to it.