About a month ago, Nazmul Haque Mujad, an honours third-year student in Rajshahi, learnt about a job in Dhaka from one of his friends named Kabirul Islam Akib.
Akib told Mujad the salary would be about Tk 20,000 a month and in addition, he would get commissions on sales.
For someone like Mujad, who was struggling to support his education because of poverty, the job looked so lucrative that he quit his studies and travelled all the way to the capital to join the company, without even knowing what the job responsibilities would be.
At the firm, housed at a building in Uttara, the 23-year-old was informed about “three packages” involving Tk 30,500, Tk 40,500 and Tk 50,500.
Mujad, 23, was lured into picking the first package, and he paid the company officials Tk 30,500 as “refundable security money”. He had to borrow it from some lenders in Rajshahi on high interests.
“The higher the security money the higher the salary,” he said, adding that he was told he would take up a three-month training and receive a monthly remuneration of Tk 8,000 along with free accommodation and food during the period.
“There were many other youths like me, and the first three days went well. But on the fourth day, some guys from the firm took all our mobile phones. They then asked us to call our friends and gave them the same job offers,” he said.
The behaviour of the company staffers made Mujad and the other youths realise that they were trapped. When they tried to leave the place, they were intimidated.
Mujad said, “As I asked for my Tk 30,500, a man named Shahadat told me that they spent Tk 11,000 for my food and Tk 11,000 for my accommodation. He offered me a blender or a dinner set for the rest of the money.
“It was robbery in broad daylight. We all were cheated this way. “
Helpless, Mujad and the other youths started thinking about an escape route. They gathered courage and managed to inform the matter to the law enforcers through their friends.
On Saturday, Rapid Action Battalion raided several rented apartments of the company -- Lifeway Bangladesh (Pvt) Limited -- and rescued about 150 youths, including 30 females, Assistant Superintendent of Police Sujoy Sarker, operations officer of Rab-1, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Rab also arrested eight suspects during the raids, he said.
Those rescued included Mujad and his friend Akib.
ASP Sujoy said the Multi-level Marketing (MLM) company embezzled crores of taka with promises of jobs that don’t exist.
The company targeted vulnerable jobseekers in different districts and lured them into joining it with fake promises of good salaries and other benefits, including free accommodation and pensions, the official said, adding that the victims were told the firm was run by current and former officials of different government and private organisations.
At times, they took up to Tk 50,000 from each jobseeker in the name of “refundable security money”. They also took the jobseekers’ signatures on blank papers, Rab officials said.
The company officials frequently changed apartments so that they could not be traced and the victims have less chances of knowing each other, he added.
Another victim, Mohammad Milon, 20, from Noakhali’s Begumganj, said he came to the Uttara office on receiving a phone call from his friend Zia.
As Milon arrived at the office, he was told his job would be to post advertisements online.
Those running the office told him they were working for a special government body, Milon said, adding that he was promised a salary of Tk 15,000 as well as free accommodation, food and treatment.
Milon, who gave the company Tk 50,000 as “security money”, was taken to an apartment where he met 15 other youths.
“The youths immediately told me that I had made a mistake,” Milon recalled.
He said those from the company assured him that the youths were telling lies. They also took him to restaurants and other recreational places.
“But after a few days, they started torturing me mentally. I was forced to convince two of my friends into coming here and depositing Tk 50,000 each,” he said.
He added 15 jobseekers from Noakhali had come to work for the company.
During the Rab drive, only three of them were rescued. “We don’t know the whereabouts of the rest,” he said.
Milon said some officials left the Lifeway office hours before the Rab drive saying they were going to Cox’s Bazar. “The 12 youths were probably with them,” he said.
Faruk Hossain, another victim who is from Shariatpur, said the company did not produce or sell any products.
“They loot money from jobseekers. It’s cheating,” he said.
Milon has filed a case against the company for fraud with Turag Police Station, said its officer-in-charge Nurul Muttakin.
Those arrested on Saturday are Md Mortuza, 28, Hossain Ahmed Khan alias Shahadat, 22, Arif Hossain alias Ahsan Habib, 20, Aminul Islam, 22, Obaidul Haque, 27, Yamin Islam, 20, Naznin Sultana Nisha, 29, and Ismail Hossain, 27.
According to media reports, Rab had arrested 34 members of the company in raids last year.
Rab officials said although the firm has no licence, it has branches in Gazipur, Tongi, Jatrabari, and Savar.
The Daily Star tried to contact Lifeway Bangladesh (Pvt) Limited authorities several times yesterday, but none of them responded to phone calls.
On April 19, The Daily Star’s Star Weekend magazine ran a report on this company under the headline “Old Wine In A New Bottle.”
According to the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (RJSC) -- the sole authority to facilitate the formation of companies and keep track of all ownership-related issues prescribed by the laws in Bangladesh -- Lifeway Bangladesh (Pvt) Limited was registered under the Companies Act 1994 in 2010, the report said.
The company was registered to carry on the business of general trading/multilevel marketing/direct sales marketing/network marketing and home-based marketing of electrical and electronic goods. But later, after approval of the Multi-Level Marketing Control Act 2013, Lifeway again applied for a licence to operate MLM business in the country in 2014, but it was rejected by the RJSC, the report added.