By Elton Gomes
Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s secretary Sonia Dhawan and two others were arrested for allegedly attempting to extort Rs 20 crore from Sharma by threatening to leak Paytm’s confidential data.
Dhawan, her husband Rupak Jain, and Devendra Kumar, an employee at Paytm’s administration department, have been arrested. A court sent all three accused to jail for 14 days.
Meanwhile, the police have no clue about the fourth accused in the case — Rohit Chomal. Chomal reportedly spoke to Vijay Shekhar Sharma and his brother Ajay Shekhar Sharma and demanded a ransom of Rs 20 crore.
Chomal had allegedly claimed that he possessed Paytm’s confidential data, and would leak them if the demand was not met.
Sonia Dhawan’s lawyer has alleged that the case is nothing but a conspiracy. Dhawan’s family has said that there was no need for her to resort to extortion as she owns stocks worth Rs 10 crore. On the other hand, Paytm founder Vijay Sharma believes that the police will soon crack the case.
Speaking to MoneyControl, Ajay Shekhar Sharma, senior vice president at Paytm, elaborated on the events that transpired. He said that it started on September 20, around 11 am when his brother Vijay Shekhar Sharma received a call from a Thailand-based number while he was in Japan.
“The person claimed he had my brother’s personal data and demanded Rs 20 crore for not leaking it. My brother avoided even as the other person called for four-five times. At the end of it, my brother suggested that he should speak to me since he was busy,” Ajay Shekhar Sharma told MoneyControl.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Noida, Ajay Pal Sharma said Vijay Shekhar Sharma informally told them about the extortion attempt. On Monday (October 22), a formal written complaint was filed and an FIR registered.
The SSP told the News Minute that Dhawan had complete access to Vijay Shekhar Sharma ‘s data as she was his personal secretary. The SSP then said that Dhawan stole some personal information and passed it to Devendra Kumar. After that, Kumar contacted someone he knew in Kolkata to make the extortion call.
The caller, believed to be Rohit Chomal, allegedly demanded that the extortion amount should be paid through hawala so that no trace is left. However, Ajay Shekhar Sharma refused to do a hawala transaction stating that they did not have enough cash and that they would transfer the money online. The caller then shared a bank account number, which was held by a company named Apnapan Tieup Pvt Ltd.
Ajay Shekhar Sharma initially credited Rs 67 to ensure that the transaction was happening. He then transferred Rs 2 lakh in the account. However, the demand for Rs 20 crore remained constant.
Who is Sonia Dhawan
At Paytm, Dhawan currently is the vice president for corporate communications/public relations. She joined Paytm in January 2010, as Vijay Shekhar Sharma ‘s personal secretary, and then went on to become the corporate communication head.
Dhawan has been associated with Paytm since the time it was a small startup and has witnessed the Paytm’s growth over the years.
What was stolen
Ajay Shekhar Sharma has alleged that the data under question included “photos and personal financial details”, but there is no immediate clarity on the nature pictures or any other details.
Hindustan Times reported that the total data recovered amounted to more than 128 GB and was over 1000 pages. This reportedly included passwords, encrypted emails, the PIN of Paytm accounts, and cash cards used by Vijay Shekhar Sharma. It also included the company’s business model, new plans and schemes, along with the financial dealings of the company.
In an official statement released on Tuesday, Paytm clarified that “this is a case of personal data theft of Vijay Shekhar Sharma, where three arrests were made yesterday. Paytm would like to reiterate that all our consumer data is protected with the highest and most impenetrable levels of security,” the Economic Times reported.
Dhawan’s lawyer alleges a conspiracy
Responding to the allegations, Dhawan’s lawyer said that Paytm’s promoters were pressurising her to sell her stake in the company and that she has been framed.
“There is definitely an element of conspiracy. The promoters were pressurising her to sell her stake,” Dhawan’s lawyer Prashant Tripathi told MoneyControl.
“This conspiracy has been done with an intent. which could be professional in terms of rivalry or could also be some other reason between two working colleagues. Problem here is that the outcome so far hasn’t been in our favour. But I can tell you that this needs a deeper level of investigation than what has been done,” Tripathi said, the News Minute reported.
Tripathi added that Dhawan and her husband Rupak Jain also received an extortion call of Rs 5 crore on September 22, which was two days after Sharma received a call. “There was an extortion call for Rs 5 crore. The caller threatened to harm the family if the demand wasn’t met,” Tripathi said, as per the MoneyControl report.
Vijay Shekhar Sharma says he’s ‘shocked and surprised’
Paytm’s founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma said that the alleged extortion attempt involving Dhawan could be part of a larger conspiracy, and that it left him “shocked and surprised.”
“I believe Sonia is a conduit of someone else’s bigger plan,” Sharma told the Economic Times. “I don’t know how many more people were involved in this sad conspiracy. I am shocked and surprised at things that happened and some claims or theories being pitched. I am sure with support of police and everyone involved we will uncover the details soon.”
Business Standard quoted Sharma as saying “I have always believed her.” Sharma hoped that Dhawan will cooperate with the police and assured full support from the company. “But we have to help the investigation. When I spoke to her last, I asked her to help me,” he told Business Standard.
It still is unclear as to where the case is heading. Investigation officials have said that Dhawan could be the ‘perfect insider’. She controlled the extortion calls allegedly made by fourth accused – Rohit Chomal, and also convinced Vijay Shekhar Sharma to pay the amount.
“She was in contact with both the parties. She knew these calls were coming. The complainant (Paytm’s Sharma) has told us she convinced him ki abhi pay kar dijiye aap, kya pata kaisa data ho (pay up for now, god knows what kind of data may be there),” Ajay Pal Sharma, Noida’s SSP told the Economic Times.
The police believe that Dhawan resorted to extortion as she wanted to buy a house. However, her lawyer, Prashant Tripathi, asserts that she is being framed. Tripathi told the Economic Times, “Person who is earning in lakhs and crores in equity would not get into this to buy a house – she could simply sell her equity to buy one.”
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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