Ashneer Grover loses arbitration against governance review at BharatPe

PTI, Feb 27, 2022, 5:45 PM IST

Image Source: TNIE


BharatPe co-founder and managing director Ashneer Grover has lost an arbitration that he had filed against the company’s investigation against him, with an emergency arbitrator holding that there was no ground to stop governance review at the fintech firm, sources said.

Grover, who last month went on a two-month leave of absence following allegations of using abusive language against Kotak Mahindra Bank staff and fraudulent practices, had filed an arbitration plea with the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) claiming the company’s investigation against him was illegal. The emergency arbitrator (EA) has, however, rejected all the five grounds of his appeal and denied a single relief, sources with direct knowledge of the development said.

While BharatPe declined to comment as the matter was sub judice, Grover could not be immediately reached for comments.

Grover had pleaded before the arbitrator that the preliminary investigation was invalid because it was in violation of shareholder agreement and articles of association and the company has no authority to conduct such an investigation. He had termed all appointments for the independent audit of the company’s internal processes and systems as bad in law. He had alleged that the members of the committee reviewing governance processes, such as company CEO Suhail Sameer and the company’s general counsel Sumeet Singh, seemed to be biased.

Also, ”the appointment of Suhail Sameer as a director be kept in abeyance, and he be restrained from discharging any functions as director of the company”, Grover had said in the plea which also sought that no action be taken against him. Sources said EA rejected all the five grounds of relief.

On the claim of bias, the EA said that Grover’s claim did not seem reliable or credible because until week back both Suhail and Sumeet were among the best employees and everything was great about them. Also, everything the company has done is as per law and governance norms so there is no need to change anything, the EA noted, outrightly rejecting all contentions and giving no relief to Grover.

Grover can challenge the arbitrator’s order before the Delhi High Court, sources said. In his plea, Grover alleged that despite numerous representations/ objections, BharatPe deliberately kept the review and assessment by the review committee an opaque process and gave him no chance to present his case. The first hearing on the arbitration happened on February 20 and the EA passed the order a couple of days back, the sources said.

Grover was represented by Karanjawala & Co, while BharatPe was represented by senior counsel Abhishek Singhvi. In statements this month, Grover called for removal of Sameer. But the removal of the CEO as a director will require the consent of BharatPe co-founder Shashvat Nakrani. Further, Grover had sought that the present review panel should be dissolved, and a new ‘lawful committee’ should be constituted to assess and conduct an all-encompassing review of the affairs of BharatPe.

A preliminary internal investigation has pegged the magnitude of the financial misconduct at over Rs 50 crore. BharatPe has engaged a law firm and risk advisory consultant to conduct a more detailed investigation after allegations of financial irregularities, sources said. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) alongside Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) are doing the audit. That review threw up alleged misuse of funds by Madhuri Jain, head of controls at BharatPe and wife of Grover.

Jain, who helmed procurement, finance and human resources from the company’s early days, was fired following the review. Developments around its controversial founder have been snowballing at BharatPe ever since the emergence of an audio clip in which Grover is allegedly heard threatening an employee of Kotak Wealth Management over his failure to secure financing for Nykaa’s initial share sale. On January 19, Grover was sent on voluntary leave of absence for two months till March-end.

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