The much-hyped controversies surrounding India’s fintech BharatPe and its founder Ashneer Grover have become the buzz of the startup town, and no one could have missed it.
What began as an audio leak in which former BharatPe’s MD Ashneer Grover was allegedly heard spewing death threats and abuse at a Kotak Bank employee for failing to obtain allocation in Nykaa’s spectacular IPO swiftly escalated into a multibillion-dollar battle.
While Grover first took a voluntary sabbatical after the leaked audio call went viral, he had no idea that he would have quit his job as an MD from the firm he had built, which is now valued at over $3B.
Following claims of difficulties with the startup’s corporate governance and due diligence, BharatPe launched an independent audit shortly after Grover’s voluntary exit. A preliminary investigation later revealed Grover’s wife, Madhuri Jain, to be involved in some financial crime as well.
Meanwhile, Grover asked BharatPe’s board of directors to remove CEO Suhail Sameer. He even asked BharatPe to buy him out for INR 4,000 Cr for his 9.5% interest in the firm.
Grover, who selected former SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar as BharatPe’s chairman, eventually sought his resignation as well. Kumar, a well-known banker, was appointed to the startup’s board to investigate corporate governance.
Shashvat Nakrani, another BharatPe cofounder, then accused Grover of fabricating a false narrative about the firm and supported the board’s decision to remove Grover based on the auditor PwC’s findings.
In the midst of all of this, Grover’s wife Jain posted photos of office parties and an allegedly sexist work atmosphere at the firm.
Now that the Delhi Police’s Economic Offences Wing (EOW) has registered a criminal complaint against former co-founder and MD Ashneer Grover, his wife Madhuri Jain Grover, and family members, the focus shifts to what happens to the ousted founder and others named in the criminal complaint.
BharatPe first filed the FIR in December 2022, alleging a fraud of INR 81.2 Cr against Ashneer Grover and his family. The FIR also mentions Deepak Gupta, Suresh Jain, and Shwetank Jain in addition to the husband and wife duo. Suresh is Madhuri’s father, while Shwetank is her younger brother.
Ashneer Grover responded to the FIR by claiming that it couldn’t be a coincidence that the EOW filed a FIR against him at 6 p.m. on May 10, hours after a judge reserved the court’s order in another case. “I have gone to the Economic Offences Wing office many times and I have always gone there without a lawyer. I have always given them all the information they have asked for. This is because I am an honest person and so I am not scared,” he told a publication.
In addition to the criminal complaint, BharatPe has filed a civil complaint against the Grovers in the Delhi High Court in December 2022. The civil complaint had many of the same details as the FIR.
Following the success of BharatPe, the Grovers established a new company called Third Unicorn Private Limited, which operates the fantasy game app CrickPe.
Third Unicorn, which was launched in January 2023, has received backing from celebrities such as rapper Badshah, as well as food company Haldiram’s family office and early stage fund Venture Catalysts.
Only time will tell how long the carefully manicured PR image of Grovers will save them from facing the heat.