Swipe HQ UPDATE: The man behind the mobile payments saga

Elly Strang investigates Manas Kumar the man behind Swipe HQ and talks to former employees about its business practices and company culture.

Customers are still distressed over the unresolved situation with payment system Swipe HQ.

Swipe is the trademarked name of technology owned and operated by Optimiser HQ, a company directed by Manas Kumar. Kumar has a 41 percent share in Optimiser HQ.

Optimiser HQ owned two subsidiary companies, Odev and ‘4468440’, which was sold before being put into liquidation on December 10.

Network outages, payments being withheld and a lack of communication linked to these behind-the-scenes events have driven customers to despair. 

Read the full story on what’s happened here.

Many haven’t had payments worth thousands of dollars from last week show up in their accounts yet and are growing increasingly concerned.

“Has anyone received payment for the end of last week? I've not received any payments at all! Talked to BNZ, but they say it's a Swipe issue. Swipe said I would get paid, but haven't been. The lack of communication/way it's been handled is despicable!” Sally Flewelling wrote on Swipe’s Facebook page.

The liquidators’ first report has been released for Optimizer HQ’s subsidiary companies, Odev Limited and 4468440 Limited. The report says according to available information, the companies traded at a loss and were reliant upon shareholder funding.

Odev has 26,404 shares, while 4468440 has 1000 shares.

The liquidators were told the companies’ business assets, including the payments terminal and online payment services, were sold prior to their appointment. They said they are reviewing this, along with the companies’ books, records and affairs to determine whether the companies’ officers have properly carried out their duties and if all assets have been accounted for.

In terms of what’s owed to creditors, there are preferential claims totaling $154,754 to Odev from former employees and Inland Revenue. Unsecured creditors (creditors who don’t have a charge over the company’s assets, like employees) are owed $328,352 by 4468440 and $10.3 million by Odev. This includes intercompany advances of $9.8 million. An intercompany advance is when a loan is made from one business of a company to another, often to shift cash to a part of the company that would otherwise experience a cash shortfall.

Creditors who are owed money listed on the appendix include ANZ, Smartpay, Spark Business, Vodafone, Z Energy and Warehouse Stationery.

The NBR reported that when it visited Swipe HQ’s offices yesterday, the premises were virtually empty, with computer parts scattered around the floor. An employee said director and majority shareholder Manas Kumar was currently in Malaysia. Kumar hasn’t responded to requests for comment from The Register.

Kumar has a colourful past of business dealings. He made headlines in 2012 when he publicly declared himself as one of the youngest CEOs to have a company listed on Germany’s Frankfurt stock exchange. This caused some confusion, as it turned out a separate Canadian company called Optimizer International that Kumar was the director of was the one that had achieved the listing, not the New Zealand company. The company was investigated for market manipulation and ended up closing.

The NBR also found Kumar had used a convicted Mafia lawyer in the US to help become listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange. Kumar said he had found the lawyer on LinkedIn and was unaware of his past, which the lawyer disputed. He said Kumar knew about his past early on.

There were plans for the New Zealand based Optimizer HQ company to list on the NZX in 2013, but they fell through.

Several staffers who worked under Manas Kumar at Optimizer HQ spoke to The Register on the condition of anonymity. They said the company was a strange environment to work in. 

They said the email software used by the company, called Maxmail, sent spam all over the world, which got several computer servers in the company blacklisted. “It was disguised to make sure it had no ties back to Optimizer. Then one day, a spammer sent out a campaign that had US Government, Whitehouse and Pentagon email addresses and within an hour the entire Optimizer network went down due to a cyber attack from the US. Took us days to bring it back,” the staffer said.

They also spoke of mistreatment of staff. They said there was unjustified dismissals, with two people hired and then fired five days later by Kumar, who had changed his mind about running an animation business. He then restarted it at a later date.

Another person was asked during the interview process about their sexual orientation and religion. Religion was frequently mentioned in the Optimizer offices. The former staffer describes the official opening of the office being accompanied by a “séance”, with staff laying hands on another and chanting. They said Manas shared the story of how he was going through a charity bag and found a bible, which he took as a sign from God he should start a business.

According to the former staffer, Kumar also promised Visas to workers that he couldn’t sponsor.

With Optimizer’s Texta platform, which its website says is a “Bulk 2-way SMS marketing and communication platform”, the staffer said 30 cell phone mobiles were bought from China instead of New Zealand, with New Zealand sim cards put into them.

“After a week or so a card would get shut down by the Telco, so we would go down to the dairy downstairs and buy a new one and chuck the old one out,” they said. “This went on for some months until we had the Vodafone (might have been 2Degrees, can’t remember) Loss Prevention team show up at the office.” [sic]

They also mentioned him withholding transaction payments of up to $11,000 for no reason. This would be of particular concern to customers who are currently waiting from payments and are out of pocket.

The liquidators say if anyone is aware of information that would assist them, attach supporting evidence and send the details in writing.

Liquidator Jared Booth’s details are below:

McDonald Vague Limited
Level 10, 52 Swanson St
Auckland 1010
PO Box 6092
Wellesley St
Auckland 1141

JBooth@mvp.co.nz

This article originally appeared on The Register.