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The message is urgent and plaintive.
"I have been approached to invest in Evorich. I don’t know if it’s legit or not. Tried to find out on Google but couldn’t get much info," Geoff, of Auckland, types to someone in Dunedin whom he barely knows.
"Please help me. I don’t want to be scammed. I have very little money," Geoff (not his real name) adds.
"A good friend is telling me to invest and that it’s the best thing since bitcoin. Help."
Evorich. Financial regulators say it looks and smells dodgy, but promoters swear it is a bona fide business that will make investors rich.
Promises of widespread prosperity and the dawn of a new world order are made about this Russian-based, multi-level marketing company that, last week, was supposed to launch its own cryptocurrency, and fully fledged exchange. But the launch has been delayed, the latest in many, either pointing to the scale of the task or a sure sign of a scam, depending on your viewpoint.
It is unclear how long Evorich recruiters have been operating in Otago. Last month, a public presentation was held at the Mornington Tavern. It is understood to have attracted 30-40 people. Fronting the early evening gathering were Barry and Jo Love, of Dunedin, Tony Pipes, of Tauranga, and Neil Morrison, of Auckland. The Loves and Pipes are described as Evorich New Zealand leadership council members. Morrison is the national director. The Loves and Pipes have declined to answer The Weekend Mix’s questions about Evorich, saying they should be directed to Morrison.
What is clear is that Evorich is being heavily promoted, and nationwide. Two days after the Dunedin presentation, the same line-up was fronting a 6.30pm gathering at the Lone Star restaurant in Riccarton, Christchurch.
Posts about the Dunedin and Christchurch presentations were shared by Davina Maasi, of Auckland. Online, Maasi describes herself as working at NEEW Consumer Community. The day after the Christchurch meeting, Maasi posted a photo from a presentation held in Auckland the previous evening. The photo of 18 smiling faces has the caption, "Excited partners preparing themselves for their future of abundance and prosperity" and promises the meeting is "one of many more to come out West Auckland ... #EvorichNZ".
It is apparent Evorich is attracting large numbers of people who are investing millions of dollars.
Even while he had been focused elsewhere, the 15,000 people in his "business structure" had grown to "a staggering 29,000-plus people and growing".
"Together we managed 7.9 million in sales," he wrote.
"We are only just getting started so feel free to ask me what we are up to and how you can benefit from it."
Accompanying the post is a photo of Tripp holding a glossy photo of an Evorich cryptounit coin. In the top left-hand corner of the photo is the Evorich WCRU logo.
Last week, The Mix put questions about Evorich to Tripp. This week, that November post appears to have been deleted.
While it has its ardent enthusiasts, Evorich also has its sceptics and its stern critics.
Mike Moroney, of Dunedin, has friends who have invested in Evorich — and he is worried.
"They are right into it, true believers," Moroney says.
He looked at promotional material and decided "there was nothing right about this".
Urged to go along to the Dunedin presentation, Moroney declined.
"My concern is that they are reaching out to people who don’t have a lot of means, or sense."
Another Dunedin resident, who did not want to be named, also contacted The Mix with concerns about a friend who has paid money to Evorich.
"They tried to convince me to join ... to invest. I thought, it doesn’t sound right," she said.
Those concerns appear validated by warnings issued by the New Zealand Financial Markets Authority.
Last year, in July, the New Zealand Financial Markets Authority updated 2018 and 2019 scam warnings about Skyway Capital.
"All entities associated with SkyWay are not registered as financial service providers in New Zealand and therefore not permitted to provide financial services or products to New Zealand residents," it said in 2019.
"The FMA understands that Skyway has been focusing on New Zealand consumers, in particular, the Pasifika community."
The July, 2020 update added a warning about New Economic Evolution of the World (NEEW), which the FMA concluded was not a new entity but a Skyway rebrand.
The connection between Skyway, NEEW and Evorich begins in Russia.
At the top of the Evorich food chain is Andrey Khovratov, a former Skyway Capital executive. In 2017, Anatoly Yunitskiy, the founder of Skyway Capital, put Khovratov in charge of Skyway’s transition to cryptocurrency, being marketed under the umbrella of NEEW.
In February, 2020 Skyway announced it was ditching NEEW and handing it over to Khovratov.
That is the Skyway version of events, but the FMA investigation led it to declare the two were essentially the same thing.
"The FMA recommends exercising caution before dealing with the New Economic Evolution of the World (NEEW) (formerly Skyway Investment Group) ... We believe NEEW and the websites have the hallmarks of a scam."
At the start of October, Pipes, who the previous month had been advertising an NEEW seminar, in Tauranga, posted an Evorich logo with the words, "At last it has happened, the company has rebranded and is now to be known as Evorich".
This week, the FMA has told The Mix it has started investigating Evorich.
Supporters say Evorich is a burgeoning behemoth, a multinational company with fingers in many pies, hundreds of thousands of investors, its own units of exchange and a vision to transform the world.
A video supplied to The Mix by Tripp talks of investments in education, health, farming, real estate, cryptocurrency and precious metals. But Evorich is also a multilevel marketing machine; investors are encouraged to recruit others, with a percentage of the money they invest flowing upwards through the tiered pyramid. And then there is the currency element. Evorich videos, posted online at least fortnightly, are rich with references to Unit blockchain tokens, USDU stable coins, Cryptounits and WorldCru (WCru) security tokens. Evorich promoters say WCru is the cryptocurrency the company will trade as soon as its blockchain is functional and its public exchange opens for business.
On November 23, Pipes posted online, "The countdown continues so close now to the launch on to the open market for our Crypto currency coins. If you think Bitcoin is good wait until you see what happens when this hits the exchange. We still have packages of discounted tokens until the end of November, just message me if you want to learn more."
This past weekend was supposed to have been that D-day. Under the banner "WCRU and why February 10 to 14 is HUGE", a video posted on February 9 featured Morrison saying, "I’m really struggling to contain my excitement as to what’s about to happen ... They are transitioning through to the new now, which is the real world of finance and transacting."
But even before the new week began, Maria Antonenko — who is described as the head of the Evorich blockchain implementation department — was saying on her fortnightly video, "very soon it will be ready, just be patient and wait for the official news".
Antonenko has been making similar statements for some time.
Cryptocurrency is Evorich’s self-proclaimed bright future, but multilevel marketing is its bread and butter.
The minimum investment in Evorich is understood to be $250, although The Mix heard last week of an initial investment request of $US1000.
Evorich says investments are frozen for a year before a portion can be withdrawn.
Affiliate investors are paid for recruiting other investors. If, in turn, their recruits recruit other investors, they also receive a commission. The commission rate is based on the relative position in the pyramid.
The BehindMLM blog site, authored by a critic of the enterprise who uses the nom de plume "Oz", has written extensively on Skyway’s and Evorich’s inner-workings.
"How many levels residual commissions are paid out on is determined by an affiliate’s rank," Oz writes.
"Partners earn 8% on personally recruited affiliates (level 1), 5% on level 2 and 3% on level 3."
In addition to partners, there are agents, consultants, managers and other titles up to the rank of president. Titles reflect how much a person has invested and how many other people they have recruited.
Oz says commissions are paid in USDU, a token Evorich creates.
The BehindMLM blog site is highly critical of Evorich.
"Like Skyway Capital, Evorich is shaping up to be another convoluted Ponzi mess. If it isn’t already."
The Evorich name has not been around for long. What one believes about the connection between Skyway and Evorich is important in trying to pick the likely future for those who have invested, and are investing, in Evorich.
The Mix has spoken to people around the globe, from Australia to Italy, who have invested in Skyway and, years later, have not been able to retrieve their money.
of New South Wales, for example, says she and her partner invested about $A5000 in Skyway.
"It’s been three years now and [we] still haven’t been able to take the money out ... not happy," Macaulay says.
"It is still money we would like to get back, especially with a baby on the way."
If Evorich is part of the same multiheaded hydra, investors need to be worried.
Geoff, who was being pestered to invest, was given information about the link between the two entities and the scam warnings on Skyway. He put those concerns to the friend who was urging him to invest.
The friend’s response: "This is a load of ‘S’ ... There are still idiots out there that are still trying to make a connection between us and Skyway Capital and there isn’t one".
Those prominent within Evorich in New Zealand say much the same thing.
"There is no affiliation with Skyway Capital," Tripp tells The Mix in response to questions.
"The company was under the banner SWIG, which stood for Skyway Invest Group, a separate entity. This is when they were supporting the Skyway project. They no longer co-operate with them. NEEW was never the name, it’s more the ideology behind everything. WCRU was born through the Crypto Unit Program. Evorich is in the making.
"FMA only say that it’s a suspected scam, they don’t actually know."
Asked what he would say to the people who had invested in Skyway and had not been able to retrieve their money, even after three or more years, Tripp replies, "It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon".
Does he have concerns about the money he has invested in Evorich or concerns for others he has helped invest in Evorich?
"No, I don’t feel duped," Tripp says.
"I have met all the top leaders in the company, even seen the CEO and CEOs of the companies they have got involved with. Nobody appears to be hiding. I fully understand how this works."
The FMA is making its own assessment.
This week, in response to questions, an FMA spokesman said the authority was investigating Evorich.
“We are considering information in relation to Evorich. Our inquiries are confidential, so we will not comment further at this time.”
Oz, at BehindMLM, has already made his judgement.
"It’s just another MLM crypto s*** token ponzi. When Khovratov and friends decide to cash out, it’s over. Like Skyway Capital, the ponzi math behind Evorich guarantees the majority of the affiliate investors will eventually take a loss."
On Monday, Morrison, director of Evorich in New Zealand, was asked to respond to that statement and other questions about Evorich.
Through text messaging, Morrison replied that he was forwarding the questions to "our legal team" who he said would provide answers.
At 4am, on Thursday, The Mix received an email from an Aigerim Berekesheva, who is listed on LinkedIn as a partner in a Kazakhstan law firm.
In response to Oz’s judgement, Berekesheva says, "Evorich is not selling any tokens, or crypto or any other investment or finance-related instruments, and it has not been registered with such purpose. It is marketing company with affiliate marketing structure which is entirely legal and transparent".
Replying to the question as to whether people should be concerned that endless delays delivering on promises of a cryptocurrency and an exchange was deliberate stalling because neither existed, Bereskesheva says, "Evorich never promised or made such claims. Additionally, Evorich has no responsibility for any unofficial information or third party information ‘someone’ sheared [sic] ‘somewhere’. Evorich has official channels where all information been shared correctly".
Asked whether, because Evorich is not a registered financial service provider in New Zealand, that means Evorich is acting illegally, the reply is "Evorich is not financial and (or) investment company".
"Evorich is a marketing company registered in the USA ... [that] has a large community of agents worldwide and using marketing business model to promote third party companies products or services."
The address provided by Berekesheva — 16192 Coastal Highway, Lewes, 19958 Delaware — is the modest, semi-rural offices of DelawareInc.Com. The company’s website boasts that more than 200,000 limited liability companies and corporations have incorporated with it since 1981. Questions sent to Morrison included, "What do you say to the people ... who have invested in Skyway/Evorich and have tried unsuccessfully to get their money back?"
Bereskesheva’s response is, "If the person is not happy with products or services he purchased, he should follow the money return procedure in our company".
Two and a-half hours after Geoff issued his first plea for information and help, and less than two hours after he forwarded his friend’s denial of any scam, Geoff sent his Dunedin contact another message.
His friend had just told him he had paid the $US1000 investment in Evorich for Geoff.
"So I haven’t paid a cent, and I can pay him whenever I want," Geoff typed.
"He is 100% sure it’s not a scam, so I’m going to go along for the ride."
THE VALUE OF A SCAM: STATISTICS FROM NETSAFE*
• $12million — This is the amount reported as lost to scammers during the past six months.
• $5million — Of the $12million reported lost to scammers, $5million was due to investment scams including Ponzi and pyramid schemes.
• 653 — The number of reports of financial loss since mid-2019.
• $21,000 — The average loss per report.
• $19million — The amount reported as lost to scammers during the past 12 months.
*Netsafe is an independent, non-profit, New Zealand, online safety organisation.