Fake jobs: The story of the other Burhan in J&K

NEW DELHI: When a company comes out with a tagline that says, “Nobody creates more business opportunities than us,” it would seem too good to be true in Jammu & Kashmir, where commercial enterprises have been losing about Rs 120 crore daily for more than four months now. And too good to last.

That’s just what happened to the Vista Group, a recruitment company that sprung up in the state virtually overnight to offer attractive jobs and was stalled before it could take the money and run.

On October 26, the Vista Group, claiming to serve 360 businesses worldwide, put out full-page advertisements in local newspapers of Kashmir, announcing a mega recruitment drive and inviting applications for 631 posts in companies based in Srinagar, Chandigarh, Jammu and Gurgaon.

Vista was looking for IT managers, chartered accountants, graphic designers, event managers, sweepers, gardeners and drivers – jobs with monthly salaries ranging from Rs 6,000 to Rs 23,000.

This was a bonanza of prospects that had opened up. Private companies in Kashmir had been bleeding since the state was plunged into unrest on July 8, when Burhan Wani, a militant with a popular social media following, was gunned down.

Workers had lost jobs, several hadn’t been paid for over three months and others had to take huge salary cuts. In such a scenario, Vista was offering a new hope, or so it seemed.

Not surprisingly, the ads attracted hundreds of aspirants who flocked to the Vista office in Wazir Bagh in Srinagar, where application forms were sold at Rs 550. However, that lasted only a day, after suspicions were raised on social media, and the forms were subsequently given out free.

In four days, about 5,000 people had applied for the jobs. A few people were hired on the spot to run the Vista office and others were told they would have to come back for interviews if shortlisted. Demand for the application forms was so high that milk vendors and grocery shops in Wazir Bagh sold photocopies for Rs 15 each, even after the October 30 deadline.

“I sold around 30 forms today,” a local grocery shop owner told ET on November 1. The owner of the two-storey Vista office had been asked to revamp the building before the recruitment drive, which he obligingly did, expecting a huge rental. However, the mega show came to an abrupt end with timely intervention by the police and the district administration.

Sustained questioning of Vista’s business model on social media, a suo moto inquiry by the state police’s investigation department and action by the sub-district magistrate of Srinagar halted what could have been a rare high-profile economic offences originating in the Valley in recent years.

As the J&K government investigates the Vista Group, its office has been sealed and its bank accounts have been frozen. The man behind the group is said to be Burhan Baig or Burhan Beigh alias Andy Baig. In his late twenties, Baig is from Srinagar and claims to have studied in the University of Nottingham, lives in Gurgaon and runs more than a dozen companies with a presence in New Zealand, Malaysia, Dubai and New Delhi. Baig’s father ran a jewellery business on Hari Singh High Street in Srinagar, which got involved in a dispute.

Baig’s meteoric rise raised some eyebrows even among some immediate relatives, although no one bothered to cross check. He has an apartment in Tatvam Villas, located on Sohna Road in Gurgaon, as mentioned in his Aadhaar card.

However, another person, Sonakshi Baig, who is the wife of Andy Baig, also has the same Aadhaar card number with the same address. The photograph on the card, accessed by ET, is that of Sonakshi Kalra, who claims to have been educated at Middlesex University, was a director at Beigh Group of Companies and now works with Global Professional Success in Dubai.

Baig is said to have floated companies such as Fox Global, Beigh Group of Companies and Khaiti Builders and has allegedly duped many people, according to complaints filed with consumer forums. The recruitment drive by Vista Group is now being considered by the authorities as another of his questionable ventures.

“The original plan probably was to get money by selling several thousand application forms, then shortlist candidates and charge more money for final job confirmations and then disappear. He would have made millions within a month,” a senior police official told ET.

Sub-district magistrate of Srinagar, Syed Hanief Balkhi, has given people time until November 19 to come forward with complaints, if any, against the Vista Group.

“We have started an inquiry into the case of Vista Group,” Inspector General of Police (Kashmir) SJM Gilani told ET. It’s not just a case of fake jobs and bogus companies but potentially data theft as well. Baig now has a stockpile of personal information of thousands of youth from Kashmir.

In 2015, Baig put out advertisements in local newspapers from the Beigh Group of Companies twice, inviting applications via email for vacancies in Middle Eastern countries. Although he received thousands of applications, he didn’t hire anyone and retains all the information sent by the applicants.

As of now, Baig has very little going in his favour. He has produced a fake registration certificate from the labour department and does not have any other documents to establish the Vista Group’s credentials.

Although the company claims to be nine years old, its website, VistaUniverse.com, was registered only in October, days before the recruitment drive was launched. The Gurgaon office of the Vista Group at Iris Tech Park on Sohna Road, at which the company is registered as an LLP, was vacated six months ago.

The Vista Group of New Zealand, which provides software solutions to customers in the global film industry, clarified that it has no connection with Baig’s entity.

“Vista Entertainment Solutions (a Vista Group company) deploys its cinema management software via our business partner Bigtree who are headquartered in Mumbai. Vista Group itself does not have any administrative base in India,” Christine Fenby, marketing director of Vista Group International, New Zealand, told ET.

Baig declined to meet or talk at his office when it was functional, saying he preferred to reply via email. However, he didn’t respond to a detailed questionnaire from ET. He has deactivated all his social media accounts. When questioned by the police and administration officials, Baig was quick to flaunt political connections.

However, none of the politicians whose names Baig dropped know him closely. Yawar Mir, a PDP legislator from Rafiabad, confirmed that he talked to some administrative officials on Baig’s behalf and claims he hardly knows him. Mir also studied in the University of Nottingham.

“I know Burhan through a very good friend. I recently talked to somebody from tehsildar or police after my friend asked to help him. I do so for many people every day. But I didn’t know this person was so undependable. I have no business with his business or whatever he does,” Mir told ET.

All doesn’t appear to be well with the Vista Group. The millions in Baig’s bank accounts have taken bankers and investigators aback. It’s unlikely that the Vista story will end in Kashmir – it may only be one of the paths in this maze of fraud.