'Magic Lady' Rashida Samji: Accused Ponzi schemer in her own words
Interviews with B.C. securities regulator reveal tangled web behind $110M fraud
Last month, the B.C. Securities Commission fined Rashida Samji $33 million for running one of Canada's largest Ponzi schemes. This account is taken from two interviews the 61-year-old gave investigators that were in transcripts obtained by the CBC.
Rashida Samji was scared.
The notary public sat opposite two investigators in the downtown offices of the B,C, Securities Commission (BCSC). One noted the time: 1:45 pm, Jan. 30, 2012.
Samji, a Vancouver resident, had come without a lawyer.
"Just so you know, and it will come out, it will be proved, I am an innocent party here," she said.
She had survived cancer, a fact Samji often mentioned.
"Not because I want you to feel sympathetic," she said. "I've been through a lot in my life, and this is not where I want to be."
This was at the centre of a whirlwind of questions. Accounts frozen. Millions missing. Investors worried.
Samji promised to provide answers — but not yet.
She claimed she was a "pawn" for five other people. And she was worried about what they might do to her.
"I'm so scared that somebody might just pounce on me," she said. "If anything happens, they'll finish me off."
The 2nd interview: Oct. 16, 2013
A very different Rashida Samji showed up at the BCSC almost two years later.
She had a lawyer with her this time, and he objected to almost every question on the "ground the answer might tend to incriminate my client."
Still, Samji spoke. And almost immediately, investigators cut to the chase.
"Did you tell investors their money would never leave your trust account?
"Yes, I did."
"And that wasn't the case, was it?"
"No, it wasn't."
The BCSC says 200 people were defrauded in the $110-million Ponzi scheme. Last month, the commission fined Samji $33 million. She still faces 28 criminal charges of fraud and theft.
Victims thought they were investing in South African wineries. In reality, they were just paying each other.
The scheme began, Samji claimed, with a call for help.
'He used to call me The Magic Lady'
Zulfikar Nazarali Chatur died in Richmond, B.C., on Nov. 17, 2012, leaving questions about his relationship with Samji forever unanswered.
Samji said she knew Chatur as a man who could get his hands on cash in hurry. That was a service she claimed she needed in 2002.
Doctors were treating her for breast cancer. Samji claimed she got a call from England — a new client wanted to send a $500,000 bank draft to Canada.
The client asked Samji to keep $100,000 here, as a house down payment. The rest went back to England.
But three weeks later, Samji said, the bank called to say the client's draft was no good. She had already paid the money out of her trust account, and the client had vanished.
"Suddenly, I was short $400,000," she said. "That's when I panicked."
Samji claimed Chatur agreed to cover the money, but he wanted to double his investment.
She told investigators he showed up at hospital, demanding repayment. And then, she claimed, Chatur had an idea.
"He said to me, 'You know, you're in a position where you can get people to bring in money to invest.'"
Over time, she claimed, he also introduced her to potential investors: "He used to call me 'The Magic Lady.'"
Envelopes full of cash
Investors believed their money would stay in trust, providing collateral for international expansion by The Mark Anthony Group, which owns Mission Hill Winery. But that was a lie.
Initial returns reached as high as 35 per cent. Eventually, the amount settled to 12 per cent.
Samji claimed Chatur picked up an envelope containing $20,000 cash each month.
She said cash also went to Arvindbhai Patel, the former Coast Capital financial planner charged with 32 counts of contravening the Securities Act.
In an agreement with the BCSC, he admitted to encouraging friends, family and co-workers to invest $29 million.
"And did you ever calculate how much cash you gave to Mr. Patel?" an investigator asked.
"I don't have an exact amount," Samji said. "But he was the one who was bringing in some of it in cash, so he just took part of it out."
'They were aware of what was going on'
As the second interview wound down, investigators pored over a spreadsheet: money in, money out.
Samji claimed she made about $3 million over 10 years.
There were net winners and net losers. Regular people who lost their life savings, and shrewd investors, including an international banker, who Samji believed turned a blind eye to everything but profit.
"Without it ever being formally said or put into writing, these are people who knew that you couldn't have an investment return of 30 to 40 per cent without something amiss there," she said.
"I say this because they are seasoned people, not uneducated people, and it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure some of this out."