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SoftBank probes smear campaign against Nikesh Arora

The committee, comprising directors on the board of the group, will examine the allegations, including those against former SoftBank president Nikesh Arora.

ET Bureau|
Updated: Mar 27, 2018, 01.15 PM IST
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Arora quit Google as chief business officer to take up the role of president of SoftBank in 2014.
MUMBAI: SoftBank, one of the world’s most dominant technology investors, has set up a special committee to probe a smear campaign levelled against the Japanese conglomerate and a former executive.

The committee, comprising directors on the board of the group, will examine what it called "the sources of unsubstantiated attacks" made against former SoftBank president Nikesh Arora, according to a statement by the company on Monday.

American business daily Wall Street Journal ( WSJ) had reported that SoftBank is probing what it said was a shareholder-led smear campaign against Arora, once regarded as heir apparent to founder Masayoshi Son, as well as the group’s current chief strategy officer Alok Sama.

“A special committee of the SoftBank Group Board of Directors is investigating these matters. The special committee has reached no conclusions in its investigation and does not intend to comment further until the completion of its investigation,” said a spokesperson for SoftBank in response to ET’s email query on the development.

The allegations against Arora and Sama involved public shareholder letters calling for their removal, leaks to the media about personal finances and a complaint filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the WSJ report claimed.

‘Unsubstantiated Attacks’
The article said an Italian private equity investor, Alessandro Benedetti, with previous professional links to SoftBank Vision Fund chief Rajeev Misra, was behind the campaign.

Benedetti, the WSJ reported, knows Misra for over a decade and was the “central figure” in the campaign. Benedetti denied being part of a campaign to WSJ.

The WSJ article, however, does not directly link the smear campaign with Misra.

Misra did not reply to email queries from ET.

SoftBank, which has invested over $6 billion in India’s top internet companies like Flipkart and Ola, on its part had found both Arora and Sama not guilty of any wrongdoing and completely dismissed the allegations as false.

“For more than two years, SoftBank and its senior executives have been subject to attacks based on falsehoods, innuendo and erroneous media reports. While we do not understand the motivation behind these allegations, our Board thoroughly investigated claims against Nikesh Arora and Alok Sama and found them to be baseless. We continue to investigate the sources of unsubstantiated attacks on SoftBank and its executives and remain committed to protecting the interests and reputation of SoftBank,” the spokesperson told ET.

Arora quit Google as chief business officer to take up the role of president of SoftBank in 2014. Once the world’s highest paid executive, he quit SoftBank in June 2016 after receiving a clean chit in an internal investigation. At that time SoftBank said the reason for his departure was Son’s decision to continue at the helm of the Japanese conglomerate for another 5-10 years.

Alok Sama, who was until last year SoftBank’s president and the chief financial officer of its international operations, resigned from the group’s investment vehicle SB Investment Advisers, which was set up to advise on the investments made by the $100 billion SoftBank Vision Fund.

Sama’s resignation was a result of concerns expressed by the fund’s Saudi investors over alleged kickbacks and conflicts of interest.

Meanwhile, Misra, who also joined SoftBank in 2014, became one of the top executives and part of the company's board as Son announced an ambitious $100 billion Vision Fund in October 2016. The former Deutsche Bank executive who built its credit-derivatives business, Misra was pivotal in bringing Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund as the key investor into the Vision Fund with a $45 billion commitment.

Misra, who studied at Delhi Public School-Mathura Road and chemical engineering at IIT Delhi, was also named the CEO of the Vision Fund.

Since the launch of the Vision Fund, SoftBank has invested $2.5 billion in India’s largest online retailer Flipkart and country’s largest online consumer payments company Paytm. Till date SoftBank has invested over $6 billion in India across players like cab hailing company Ola, hotel services provider OYO Rooms and online grocer Grofers.

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