Ashneer Grover, the co-founder and MD of BharatPe, has informed the board that he will take a voluntary leave of absence from the company till the end of March, according to a media statement released by the company. The cause of his decision has not been divulged by BharatPe.
Ashneer’s abrupt absence comes right after he allegedly got embroiled in a filthy, abusive rant with an executive of Kotak Mahindra Bank, over the latter’s inability to secure funds worth ₹500 crore. The money was to be used by Grover and his family to buy Nykaa scrips in its blockbuster IPO. In an audio clip that went viral on the internet, Grover was purportedly hurling expletives at a Kotak employee, and even threatened to stage a “police encounter” to get the employee killed.
“For now, the board has accepted Ashneer’s decision which we agree is in the best interests of the company, our employees and investors, and the millions of merchants we support each day,” reads the statement. In his absence, the company will be led by the CEO, Suhail Sameer, the BharatPe statement adds.
Ashneer, however, took to his social media accounts to refute the allegations. He questioned the credibility of the clip—incriminating that it is doctored and the person wants to extort money from him. “Folks. Chill! It’s a FAKE audio by some scamster trying to extort funds (US$ 240K in bitcoins). I refused to buckle. I’ve got more character. And the Internet has got enough scamsters (sic)," read his tweet. Grover later deleted the posts.
The dispute did not stop there. It later became public knowledge that Ashneer and his wife, Madhuri Grover had earlier sent a legal notice to Uday Kotak, the bank’s MD and CEO, along with its senior management. The notice sought damages for the money that the couple had lost by not securing Nykaa scrips, and an additional ₹1 lakh for the cost incurred in sending the notice.
Kotak Mahindra Bank confirmed the conversation, and said that it will take legal action against Grover for his alleged use of unparliamentary language. “This notice was received by us and was replied to appropriately at the time, including placing on record our objections to inappropriate language used by Mr. Grover,” reads a statement by Kotak Mahindra.
Recent media reports have also highlighted that Grover — who is also a familiar face on TV, with his role of a “shark” on the Indian rehash of the American reality TV show Shark Tank — earlier had a similar altercation with Harshjit Sethi, Sequoia India’s director, for backing out of a funding round in 2019. For the uninitiated, Sequoia was one of the earliest investors in BharatPe.
Grover stepped down from the role of CEO of BharatPe in 2021, handing over the reins to Sameer. The three-year-old merchant payments and financial services provider facilitates $12 billion worth of transactions on its gateway every year. Its valuation increased three-fold in six months, placing it in India’s burgeoning yet coveted unicorn club, and has been valued at $2.8 billion.