BharatPe founder Ashneer Grover siphoned off money, Indian startup says

BharatPe co-founder Ashneer Grover and his relatives engaged in “extensive misappropriation of company funds” and “siphoned [off] money,” the Indian fintech startup said, citing a review by independent advisers, the latest in a series of strange turns and public drama at one of the fastest-growing firms in the country. The disclosure came a day after Grover resigned from the startup’s board.

“The Grover family and their relatives engaged in extensive misappropriation of company funds, including, but not limited to, creating fake vendors through which they siphoned money away from the company’s expense account and grossly abused company expense accounts in order to enrich themselves and fund their lavish lifestyles,” the startup said Wednesday, adding that it reserves rights to take “further legal action against him and his family.”

The board of BharatPe, a three-year-old startup that helps millions of merchants accept money digitally and provides them with credit, directed a thorough review of the company’s internal controls in January this year after receiving complaints, it said.

“I am appalled at the personal nature of the company’s statement, but not surprised,” Grover said in a statement.

“It comes from a position of personal hatred and low thinking. I think the Board needs to be reminded of $1M of secondary shares investors bought from me in Series C, $2.5M in Series D and $8.5 M in Series E. I would also want to learn who among Amarchand, PWC and A&M has started doing audit on ‘lavishness’ of one’s lifestyle? The only thing lavish about me is my dreams and ability to achieve them against all odds through hard work and enterprise. I hope the Board can get back to working soon — I as a shareholder am worried about the value destruction. I wish the Company and the Board a speedy recovery.”

Earlier this year, an alleged audio clip surfaced on Twitter of a man — presumed to be Ashneer — hurling abusive and life-threatening statements over a phone call to a Kotak Bank representative over not getting financing to buy shares in fashion e-commerce Nykaa’s IPO. The clip, which went viral on social media, triggered a chain of events that prompted the board to conduct an investigation.

But in the background, several board members and investors at BharatPe have been plotting to remove Grover from the startup for more than a year, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Grover, a Shark Tank India host who owns a more than 9% stake in BharatPe, has maintained innocence in recent weeks, and in a televised interview on Tuesday threatened to make public “dirt” on investors and board members if the startup continues to hurt his reputation. He said his investors are “removed from the reality” and treat founders as “slaves.”

“The company has taken strong objection to Mr. Grover spinning lies and hurling baseless allegations and threats,” the startup said Wednesday.

An investor of BharatPe — which counts Tiger Global, Sequoia Capital India, Insight Partners and Ribbit Capital among its backers — said the recent events at the startup have been the most bizarre episode he has ever witnessed in the Indian startup ecosystem and have wiped off billions of dollars of value. He requested anonymity to speak about private matters.

“The Board will not allow the deplorable conduct of the Grover family to tarnish BharatPe’s reputation or that of its hard-working employees and world-class technology. As a result of his misdeeds, Mr. Grover is no longer an employee, a founder, or a director of the company,” BharatPe said.

“The Board is taking all necessary steps to further strengthen the company’s corporate governance, including the appointment of an audit committee, an internal auditor, and the implementation of other key internal controls. The success of BharatPe is a result of the collective effort of a large team of dedicated and talented professionals, and not any one individual. We are confident that the company is marking the beginning of a new chapter in its success — one grounded in trust and integrity — and we are excited to embark upon this next leg of our journey.”