Paytm founder sees motives other than money behind extortion bid
26 October 2018
Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma has alleged motives other than money gains to the extortion bid on him by some senior employees of the fintech startup, including longtime associate Sonia Dhawan.
Sharma says Sonia Dhawan, who is the head of corporate communications at Paytm and an employee for the past eight years, could be a 'conduit' used by someone else against his company.
Sharma said his company, founded in 2001, has grown in size and that could have brought in more enemies than friends. Sonia Dhawan has been an employee of Paytm for the past eight years, coinciding with the period of peak growth for the company.
Sharma on Wednesday said the episode has left him “shocked and surprised” and that he was looking for answers if the recent development could be part of a broader conspiracy against the company.
The Economic Times quoted Sharma as saying that he felt the extortion plot against him and his brother Ajay Shekhar Sharma could be part of a bigger plan of destabilising the company and that his longtime aide might have been a “conduit” for someone else.
Two Paytm employees – Devendra Kumar, a manager in the administration department and Dhawan, Patym’s vice-president of corporate communication – and Rupak Jain, Dhawan’s husband, were arrested for allegedly trying to blackmail Sharma and extort Rs 200 million. The blackmailers threatened they would leak his personal data.
The fourth accused, Rohit Chomal, who made the extortion calls from Kolkata, is absconding.
Sharma said he hopes for the best outcome in the case. He added that as Dhawan had been named she should help the police. “We are on her side. But we have to help the investigation. When I spoke to her last, I asked her to help me,” he said.
Sharma also confirmed a conversation had taken place on Dhawan buying a house. “She mentioned buying an expensive house. But she did not directly ask for any money,” he said. Sources said Dhawan wanted to buy a house worth Rs5 crore.
Dhawan’s lawyers have claimed that she was being forced to sell ESOPs (employee stock ownership plans) she had accumulated over the years and some of the people close to Sharma were trying to elbow her out of the company. Sharma, however, said buying or selling ESOPs is the prerogative of the person who owns them.
Sources said Sharma’s financial as well as personal data, stored on his cellphone, was lost, following which he started getting extortion and blackmail calls. He got the first call on 20 September. His brother, Ajay Shekhar Sharma, who looks at one of the business segments, too, got calls.
According to sources close to Paytm, the stolen data included mails and conversation between Sharma and his business partners, aides, as well as with various government officials.
“The information is sensitive and could help competition gain access to a lot of company’s secrets. The company has now gone international and this would affect detractors. This might have been a result of all that,” reports quoting sources close to the company said.