NEW DELHI: A US-based Indian national has demanded a significant stake in One97 Communications, Paytm’s parent entity, along with a board seat and recognition as a co-founder, while accusing the company’s founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma of going back on his promise and allegedly misappropriating his investments.
Ashok Kumar Saxena (aged around 70 years), who claims to be a founder-director of One97 Communications, lists initial investments of $27,500 between January 2001 and April 2002 towards his promised stake of 55% in the company through an agreement allegedly signed in September 2001. In a legal notice to Sharma, he has also alleged that he was “wrongfully removed” as a director in February 2004.
Saxena, who claims to be a serial entrepreneur and an aerospace & telecommunications technologist, said due to personal events in his life, he was unable to take up the issue earlier.
In the notice, sent by law firm AugustLegal on February 1, Saxena has claimed to have first met Sharma around 1999, when he was “relatively fresh out of college” and primarily working on assignments relating to hosting, maintaining, and designing websites.
“At the relevant time, you were working as a consultant for an Indian project of SigmaNet Network Corporation (a US company founded by our client) providing programming services for its web portal, IAOL… Sigma-Net was acquired by Startec Global Communications (a publicly held company in the US) in December 1999. You may be familiar with the name Startec Global since it finds mention on your LinkedIn profile where you falsely claim to be its erstwhile CTO between April 2000 and May 2001,” the notice said.
Saxena claims to have “invested his time, reputation, and business network” to meet potential customers and clients for One97 Communications, including Bharti Airtel. “… the entire blueprint of the Astrotel services including conception, planning and successful execution was spearheaded by our client and it is not out of place to mention that Astrotel services was one of the highest revenue grossers for Airtel at the relevant time,” the notice said.
The US-based individual also claimed that the initial marketing presentations and communications of One97 Communications represented it as a subsidiary of Informatics Inc, another US-based company founded by him. Also, One97 Communications cited the customers of Informatics as references, and these included US corporations such as Lockheed Martin, IBM, Computer Science Corporation, US Naval Research Lab and NASA.
“It is clear that company (One97 Communications) was formed and was being run by you on the basis of trust and confidence reposed in you by our client (Saxena),” AugustLegal said in the notice.
He also claims that according to a written agreement in September 2001, Saxena was to receive a 55% stake in One97 Communications, apart from getting rights to veto the sale of shareholding to any outsider.
“However, in spite of the written agreement and taking advantage of our client’s busy work schedule in the US, and his inability to follow up and remotely supervise all your actions pertaining to the company, you failed to allot the shares to our client or to appoint the third director nominated by him under some dubious pretext. You also failed to share the statement of account of the company with our client as agreed or to repay the loans of our client,” said the notice.
Paytm founder denies charges, says claims are baseless
Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma has denied the charges levelled against him. Through his law firm, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas, he has also sought a copy of the alleged agreement, which Saxena has quoted in support of his claim. “… our client does not admit the contents of the captioned notice and reserves his rights and remedies under law,” the firm said in response to the notice.
Separately, responding to a detailed questionnaire from TOI, a Paytm spokesperson said, “The claims (made by Saxena) are completely false and baseless. We will take aggressive steps to defend against any such attempts to malign the reputation of the company.”