Aquaoin, a supposed “blockchain solution” for India’s water crisis, is a dubious cryptocurrency scheme with links to bitcoin scams

05 June 2018
Aquaoin’s team members Subharansh Rai (left) and Abhishek Bhandari (right) have links to fraudulent or dubious investment schemes, including those run by the bitcoin entrepreneur Amit Bhardwaj.
Aquaoin’s team members Subharansh Rai (left) and Abhishek Bhandari (right) have links to fraudulent or dubious investment schemes, including those run by the bitcoin entrepreneur Amit Bhardwaj.

On 13 May, Asian News International carried a report that deemed Aquaoin, a recently founded company, the “block chain solution for India’s water woes.” Subharansh Rai, Aquaoin’s media advisor, was cited as claiming that the company consists of “a group of entrepreneurs in India who have come up with a block-chain based technology ‘Water2All’ (W2A) that can recycle waste water and make it safe for human consumption.” But in reality, Rai told me, the blockchain technology would only be used to verify the Aquaoin-brand authenticity of the bottles. The proposed machine for purifying water has little, if anything, to do with blockchain, and the company refused to provide any precise details on how it would manufacture these machines. Based on this supposed solution to India’s water crisis, Aquaoin has been promoting an upcoming “crowd sale” of its cryptocurrency from 9 to 15 June—but the fact that several team members of the company have past links to questionable cryptocurrency schemes raises concerns about this crowd-funding campaign.

Innovation through blockchain—the underlying technical structure of cryptocurrencies, including the first one ever, bitcoin—has been especially in vogue lately, with the technology being applied to solve problems in healthcare, insurance and finance, among other sectors. Blockchain allows users to store data in a secure digital record that is shared across a network of computers and continuously aggregated, which typically makes it impossible for any part of that data to be altered. But the blockchain-oriented aspect of Aquaoin’s plans has nothing to do with its promised silver bullet—the supposed “state-of-the-art” water-recycling machines.

Aquaoin seems to use vagueness and secrecy to its advantage. The company’s proposals are available on its website in a whitepaper—a document that functions as a pitch to potential investors—which explains its plans on “generating revenue to commission a Research and Development (R&D) infrastructure” to create the water-recycling machine. But there is no evidence revealed in the whitepaper, on Aquaoin’s website, or during my conversations with three of its members, to indicate that the company has conducted any substantial work on its project. Moreover, at least two of Aquaoin’s team members have links to fraudulent or dubious investment schemes, including those run by the bitcoin entrepreneur Amit Bhardwaj. It goes to show that despite recent steps that India has taken to punish and curb fraud with cryptocurrencies—such as Bhardwaj’s arrest, and the Reserve Bank of India’s imposition of restrictive regulations to banking transactions involving cryptocurrencies—crypto-related scams still pose risks to Indian investors.

Aria Thaker is a journalist who reports on the intersection of technology and politics for Quartz India. She was formerly a copy editor at The Caravan.

Keywords: Bitcoin Gainbitcoin Amit Bhardwaj Reserve Bank of India blockchain ICO Aquaoin ponzi scheme pyramid scheme cyrptocurrency
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