Blame game starts over Paytm data theft, core team remains without a clue

Even 24 hours after the arrest, no one besides Sharma and his core team seems to have any idea what was the nature of the stolen data, which the alleged blackmailers had used as leverage | Photo: Bloomberg
The plot at One97 Communications, in which three employees were arrested on Monday for allegedly trying to extort founder and Chief Executive Officer Vijay Shekhar Sharma, seems to be getting thicker by the minute. Allegations are flying thick and fast, from harassment, pressure on employees to sell their stocks in the firm, to not one but two extortion calls.

But, even 24 hours after the arrest, no one besides Sharma and his core team seems to have any idea what was the nature of the stolen data, which the alleged blackmailers had used as leverage. 

Sharma’s brother, Ajay Shekhar, also part of the company, said in an interview to a website that the stolen data included the Paytm founder’s personal photographs and financial statements. 

On Tuesday, Noida District Court denied bail to the three main accused, Sonia Dhawan, Sharma’s personal secretary as well as Paytm’s vice-president of corporate communications; her husband Rupak Jain; and Devendra Kumar. They were sent to Kasana Jail in Noida. 

Paytm did not comment on a detailed questionnaire sent to them.

Dhawan volunteered to track missing data

It all started with a search for Sharma’s missing iPhone. He lost before a trip to the US in 2016. It is not clear if the stolen data went missing from that phone or another one he got from one of his aides.

“A month back, Sharma started getting extortion calls. The caller claimed he had mails as well as photographs of a highly personal nature that would compromise Sharma and his company. Sharma confided in Dhawan. She volunteered to help track the phone as well as the data, and set up a team to locate it,” said a source close to Dhawan. 

Besides her, the team that handles Sharma’s personal expenses and bills might have had access to the phone. 

A few weeks back, suspicion fell on Dhawan. “She was only trying to help,” said a source.

An extortion call to Rupak Jain

Jain’s lawyers in court said he had got an extortion call on September 22. The caller threatened to harm Jain’s family if Dhawan did not mend her ways. A demand for Rs 50 million was made. 

“The extortionist claimed his son would be harmed if they did not cough up the money. A complaint was also submitted to the police,” said his lawyer in court.

Pressure on Dhawan

Dhawan’s lawyers said she was being forced to sell her stock in the company that she had accumulated over the years. Some people close to Sharma were apparently trying to eject her from the company.

She has been working with One97 Communication for almost a decade and had accumulated over 17,000 shares. The value of this was Rs 300 million.

Her lawyers claimed with the valuation of the firm touching almost $12-16 billion the company was forcing her to go a buyback that she did not want to.


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