As the Make in India and Digital India movements announced by the Prime Minister accelerate, all eyes are on Indian firms and entrepreneurs to see what they can achieve in the new, more conducive environment. The Union Budget this year further set the stage for incentivising startups in the country.
It is in this scenario that mPhone Electronics and Technologies Pvt. Ltd, a Kochi-based company, set out to launch its range of ‘Mango’ or ‘mPhone’ smartphones in the country. It is said to be helmed by three siblings – Josekutty, Rojy John, and Anto Augustine. With a launch that was aggressively promoted in newspapers and scheduled for earlier this week, reports indicate that things did not go as planned for the company.
As per a report in The New Indian Express, on the day of the launch, directors and promoters Anto and Josekutty Augustine were arrested from the launch venue in Kochi for allegedly defrauding the Kalamaserry branch of the Bank of Baroda by falsifying proofs. The duo are said to have been later produced before the Kalamassery Judicial First Class Magistrate. The brothers reportedly have several cases of fraud registered against them various banks across the country, and are said to have been absconding for over a year.
The report cited the promoters to claim an initial investment in the mPhone to the tune of Rs. 3,500 crores, and that it had more than 4 years of experience making mobiles, with a manufacturing unit in Shenzen and an R&D centre in South Korea.
Rojy John Augustine, the third brother who has not been arrested, was quoted as saying, “We have no knowledge about the complaint lodged by Bank of Baroda… The police neither probed the matter nor did they ever seek our explanation. The police were acting under pressure from someone who wants to sabotage the company.”
Another report by the News Minute claimed an assault case has been against the brothers by an unnamed woman who was the company’s alleged former Chief Relationship Manager. She said that after she learnt of the previous cases of fraud, she had announced her resignation from the company, and had subsequently been assaulted severely.
The company was set to launch six smartphones in the country ranging from Rs. 11,999 to Rs. 39,999 – the mPhone 5S, mPhone 6, mPhone 7 Plus, mPhone 8, mPhone 9 Plus, and the mPhone 11 Plus.
Alongside these, mPhone was also due to promote its M2 Watch, power banks, and other accessories. All the products are listed on the company’s site, but as ‘out of stock’. The News Minute added newspaper advertisements were still being carried despite the turn of events.
Last month, Noida-based startup Ringing Bells rang alarm bells across the nation when it unveiled a smartphone that costs less than a 1GB mobile data pack – Rs. 251. Called the Freedom 251, the smartphone caught the attention of the entire globe due to its incredible pricing, and saw a huge interest from consumers. And while the specifications of the Freedom 251 were nothing spectacular by themselves, coupled with the meagre price they appeared to offer astounding value for money.
Soon after its high profile launch, the Freedom 251 smartphone lost its lustre – at least in the eyes of critics and competition, and even the political opposition. While initially marketing the smartphone as a Make in India product, Ringing Bells soon admitted the device being shown to media was not what would be sold to consumers. After the first couple of days of booking, a process that was criticised for its lack of refinement and innumerable errors, the company also revealed that components for the smartphone will be imported, with only the assembling done in India for now. Investment in Noida and Uttaranchal manufacturing plants is being planned, with a timeline of 6-8 months to “start making fully in India”.
The company was also accused of defrauding its customer service partner by refusing to pay dues. Seeking to reassure customers, the company says it will refund the money of first phase’s 30,000 Freedom 251 customers – and will accept cash upon delivery.[“source-ndtv”]