S’pore start-up Zilingo fires CEO Ankiti Bose, reserves right to pursue legal action

SINGAPORE – E-commerce platform Zilingo has terminated its chief executive Ankiti Bose, also the co-founder of the firm, following an investigation into complaints of serious financial irregularities. 

In a statement on Friday (May 20), the Singapore-based firm said it decided to terminate Ms Bose’s employment “with cause” and that it “reserves the right to pursue appropriate legal action”. 

The start-up, which counts Sequoia Capital India, Singapore state investor Temasek, and the Singapore Economic Development Board’s investment arm EDBI among its investors, had earlier suspended Ms Bose on March 31. 

In its statement, Zilingo said that Ms Bose brought “certain harassment-related issues pertaining to past time periods” to the attention of the firm’s board on April 11. 

These issues did not include any harassment complaints against investors or their nominees, it added, noting that “a top consulting firm” was engaged to look into the claims brought forth. 

“The investigation has concluded that the company took appropriate action and followed due process to address these complaints that were brought to their notice, contrary to media reports that have suggested that the suspension and investigation into Ankiti Bose were aimed at suppressing the said harassment claims,” Zilingo said. 

Bloomberg News reported that Ms Bose said in a separate statement that her employment was terminated on grounds of insubordination, after being suspended on the basis of an “anonymous whistle-blower complaint”. 

In its statement, Zilingo said: “The company is deeply pained and disappointed to see the manner in which the board, investors and employees have been constantly attacked through ostensibly leaked and fake information, along with what unfortunately appears to be paid and defamatory social media campaigns throughout the investigation period.” 

This has cause “irreparable damage” to the start-up, board, staff and backers, it added.

The company noted that following the recall of loans by debtholders, an independent financial advisor was appointed and is in the midst of assessing options for the business. 

More information will be provided “in due course”, it said.

Ms Bose had earlier been suspended from her duties while the start-up’s accounting practices were investigated. Regulatory checks show that Zilingo’s last financial statement was filed in 2019.

Ms Bose, who co-founded the company with Mr Dhruv Kapoor in 2015, has disputed claims of wrongdoing. 

Commenting on corporate governance issues that start-ups face, NUS Business School’s Professor Mak Yuen Teen noted that such issues are not uncommon. Start-ups here and elsewhere have faced the likes of toxic culture, product fraud, financial irregularities, and conflict of interest, he noted. 

“Founders are by their nature entrepreneurial and risk takers, and may push the boundaries. They are also often charismatic and able to convince people to buy into their vision,” he said. 

Prof Mak added that with problems emerging in start-ups, investors may be more careful about due diligence before investing and may demand better corporate governance, and startups that are not prepared for these may find it harder to attract investors.

Start-ups need to ensure that they have at least the basic corporate governance in place, he said. This includes measures such as having accounts audited by a respectable audit firm on a timely basis, having proper internal controls for key business operations, having an internal audit of the key risk areas, and having a properly constituted board with some independent members.

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