Owner of Japanese sushi chain flees fraud claims

Owner of Japanese sushi chain flees fraud claims

A woman shows an e-voucher she bought from Daruma Sushi Co for a salmon buffet before filing a fraud complaint with the Consumer Protection Police Division on Monday. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
A woman shows an e-voucher she bought from Daruma Sushi Co for a salmon buffet before filing a fraud complaint with the Consumer Protection Police Division on Monday. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

The franchisor of Daruma Sushi Co has fled the country, leaving behind chaos after more than 500 people lodged fraud complaints with police and the consumer protection body against the popular Japanese buffet restaurant chain.

Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) commissioner, said on Monday an immigration check showed the company owner, whose name was not disclosed, left for Dubai at 11pm on Thursday. He was travelling alone, and his final destination was unknown.

The commissioner spoke following talks with a number of victims - e-voucher buyers, franchisees and suppliers - at the Consumer Protection Police Division.

Their lawyer, Ratchaphol Sirisakhon, said the company had caused more than 400 people to suffer financial losses that could run to about 100 million baht.

A large number of victims filed fraud complaints with the Office of the Consumer Protection Board (ONCB).

The franchisor's disappearance came only one day before all 27 branches of Daruma Sushi closed their doors, citing the need to improve the server.

Daruma Sushi had offered e-vouchers for a salmon buffet at a steeply discounted 199 baht. Salmon lovers snapped up the offer, with some buying more than 2,000 e-vouchers and reselling them at a profit.

“Offering a promotion with a discount from 499 baht to 199 baht to boost sales of the e-voucher, which is normally sold five to ten per order, is highly suspicious from the beginning. It looks like a scam from the start,” OCPB secretary-general Prateep Charoengulpa said.

The use of e-vouchers instead of paper ones could also be aimed at making it easier to destroy evidence of fraud that may later be used against the suspect, he said.

A Daruma Sushi franchisee who asked not to be named said she was a regular customer of the sushi buffet restaurant before she decided to invest in a Daruma Sushi franchise that opened in Sai Mai district of Bangkok.

She was speaking after lodging a complaint with the Consumer Protection Police Division against Daruma Sushi Co on Monday along with another franchisee.

She said the company had assured her that all she needed to do was pay the franchise fee and wait to receive her share of profits from the restaurant, which it promised to pay monthly.

Upon agreeing to invest 2 million baht in the programme, she was required to transfer all daily income from the branch restaurant to the franchiser before the promised 10% of monthly profits would be transferred back to her, she said.

Although the restaurant didn’t make any profits, she received about 100,000 baht per month from the franchiser in the first two months, she said.

Last month the franchise owner announced in a LINE group chat of his franchisees that he had a problem finding supplies of salmon and afterwards lost contact with everyone in the group, she said.

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