Among the most expensive liquids in the world, many have good reason to boast hefty price tags. But in a recent case in China, bottles of ridiculously priced “NASA-certified” water turned out to be just regular water, and part of a massive multi-level marketing scheme.
Chinese authorities recently indicted a company named Zhongzichuanglian for operating the pyramid scheme, state-run legal news outlet Procuratorial Daily reported in May.
The company, which operated from 2016 to 2018 and had over 49,000 members, made nearly 900 million Chinese yuan ($141 million) in revenue, most notably through a water product known as “SSG Life Mineral Liquid” that was supposedly certified by the United States’ aeronautics and space agency. Sold in boxes of 15, each 35 milliliter bottle of water cost 1,000 yuan ($160) and claimed to cure various ailments and help people retain youthful vigor. A police investigation later found that it was merely regular groundwater, state-run publication National Business Daily reported.
The case came to light in 2019, when a series of police reports were lodged against the company, after victims of the pyramid scheme realized that they had been scammed. According to Chinese news outlet Legal Daily, members were told that they could enjoy a rebate of 100,000 yuan ($15,700) after spending 150,000 yuan ($23,600) worth of products.
But the cashback reportedly never came, and the water proved useless against its incredible health promises—backed by Nobel Prize winners, or so the company claimed—that included weight loss, a diabetes cure, and cancer treatment.
Despite the supposed all-healing properties of the SSG Life Mineral Liquid, the company claimed that consuming the water by itself can only achieve 70 percent of its effectiveness. To reap its full benefits, customers were encouraged to undergo floating therapy, a service offered by a subsidiary company that runs float centers and sells other wellness products like face masks and pain relief patches. One floating therapy session would cost members 298 yuan ($47).
Members were classified into levels differentiated by the amount of their profits. To boost membership, the company implemented a variety of rewards policies, incentivizing existing members to rake in new ones. The company reportedly also promoted itself by claiming that it used blockchain technology.
According to Procuratorial Daily, 17 people have been indicted in relation to the pyramid scheme. The leaders of the scheme, identified only by their last names Yan and Wang, have been sentenced to 10 years in prison with a 1 million yuan ($157,000) fine, and eight years and six months in prison with a fine of 900,000 yuan ($141,000), respectively.
Follow Koh Ewe on Instagram.