Moneycontrol PRO
Upcoming Webinar:Watch a panel of experts discuss: Challenges of continuously evolving regulation for Cryptocurrency, on 7th July at 3pm. Register Now

Exclusive: Suhail Sameer manipulated me into going on leave, says BharatPe founder Ashneer Grover

BharatPe founder Ashneer Grover has added a new layer of controversy, calling CEO Suhail Sameer the board's puppet, as communication lines among founder, CEO, board members and employees seem to have broken down.

Delhi, Mumbai / February 05, 2022 / 09:34 AM IST

BharatPe's embattled founder in exile Ashneer Grover attacked the fintech's CEO Suhail Sameer, accusing him of siding with the startup's investors to oust him, in an interview with Moneycontrol, signifying an irretrievable breakdown in relations.

While Grover and the company have attempted to strike a conciliatory note in public so far, this is the first time that the differences are so open and obvious, even as there is growing scrutiny on the company's governance and business practices. This also underscores what sources have been saying in the last week, that the board is not keen to have Grover back.

While Grover took a leave of absence till March-end amid backlash regarding his abusive language to a Kotak employee, toxic culture at BharatPe, and brash behaviour, his wife Madhuri Jain Grover, who headed controls, also went on leave last week. BharatPe’s board and external consultants are conducting a forensic investigation into the company’s practices, including accounting, approval processes, expenses, and hiring.

In a nearly 80 minute interview, Grover, at first calm, and then combative, called Sameer a puppet of investors, alleging a larger conspiracy behind sending him away and instituting a probe.

"In the last round, he (Sameer) sold Rs 11 crore worth of ESOPs (Employee Stock Option Plans). I have created value for him, real value not paper value. After having done everything and giving someone full degree of freedom to operate, if you operate in a manner and side with the investors when I need you the most, then you don't enjoy my confidence. Why should the puppet of the investors be my nominee on the board?" Grover said.

Close

The hostility comes barely weeks after Sameer gave him a public vote of confidence, stating that there was "zero chance" that Ashneer would exit the company as he was integral to BharatPe. He had also said then that the idea to take a leave of absence came from Grover which was initially rejected by everyone including himself and the board. However, only after they realised the issue was blown out of proportion, did they accept Grover's suggestion to take a leave of absence.

But Grover contested this, asserting that it was never his idea to go on leave till March-end and he was instead manipulated by Sameer as well as the company's general counsel Sumeet Singh.

"That idea was forced into my head basis misrepresentations from Suhail and Sumeet Singh, in connivance with investors so that they can otherwise achieve what they wouldn’t have been able to. All of them sided with investors and said you should go," Grover said.

Moneycontrol had reported earlier that the board is looking into issues including invoices possibly being over-inflated and some vendors possibly being fake. A source also suggested the possibility that when a merchant recorded a transaction, BharatPe may have inflated the value of these transactions.

Attacking the board on how it has handled the audio clip leak's fallout,  he said it now seemed like he had become a liability for the company. He claimed that the board never informed him of the hiring of management consultant and risk advisory firm Alvarez and Marsal and more recently PwC.

"If it is such a well run audit you (board) are doing, why are there so many media leaks? Have you ever heard of any company doing a governance review, where the person who's doing the governance review is declared in public? Those are confidential processes. Here's a board who's coming out and saying, oh, we're getting the review done by this guy. It is clearly arm twisting," he said.

"What is this sending on temporary leave of absence? Where is it defined? It is not defined in my SHA (shareholder agreement). It is not defined in the employment contract. Where does this come from? You (board) said, there's a lot of noise around you around the Kotak matter. There's no Kotak matter now, " he added.

Moneycontrol has reached out to BharatPe for a comment on all of Grover's allegations.

Grover's fortunes have rapidly unravelled in the last two weeks, from being recognised as the founder of one of India's hottest startups to being blamed for all that is wrong with the Indian startup ecosystem. Things escalated after Moneycontrol reported on January 9, 2022, that Ashneer Grover and his wife sent a legal notice to Kotak Mahindra Bank MD and CEO Uday Kotak, and his senior management, accusing the bank of failing to secure financing and allocation of shares in an IPO launched by beauty firm Nykaa.

Kotak Group in turn alleged that Grover used foul and threatening language towards its employees and that it reserved the right to take legal action against him.

Moneycontrol reported earlier that BharatPe’s board of directors - investors from Sequoia India, Ribbit Capital, Coatue Management - and ex-SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar and ex-Union Bank chairman Kewal Handa were unanimously insisting that Grover needs to leave for some time. They saw this as a personal issue and hence decided to send him on leave instead of firing him. While the altercation with Kotak was of a personal nature, Grover’s rude demeanor has previously antagonised investors and senior employees.

In late 2020, Suhail Sameer, a veteran of the RP Sanjiv Goenka Group joined BharatPe and became its CEO, handling daily operations, leaving Grover to oversee fundraising and big picture plans. Sameer and Grover both sit on BharatPe’s board. Sameer and co-founder Bhavik Koladiya will continue to manage day-to-day operations.
Priyanka Sahay
M. Sriram
first published: Feb 4, 2022 07:45 am
Sections
ISO 27001 - BSI Assurance Mark