Zilingo fires CEO in escalating clash at Singapore startup

·3-min read
Zilingo fires CEO Ankiti Bose as clash over embattled startup escalates. (PHOTO: Bloomberg)
Zilingo fires CEO Ankiti Bose as clash over embattled startup escalates. (PHOTO: Bloomberg)

By Yoolim Lee and David Ramli

(Bloomberg) — Zilingo Pte Ltd has fired co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Ankiti Bose, deepening a dispute that’s plunged the once high-flying startup into crisis and sent shockwaves through Singapore’s technology industry.

Zilingo ousted Bose after an investigation led by an independent forensics firm into complaints of serious financial irregularities, it said in an emailed statement on Friday. The company “decided to terminate Ms Ankiti Bose’s employment with cause, and reserves the right to pursue appropriate legal action,” it said in the statement.

Bose was suspended from her duties at the fashion e-commerce platform on March 31 while the company opened an investigation into allegations of accounting irregularities. Kroll Inc. led the probe into its finances over past weeks, although its findings have not yet been made public.

Bose has denied any claims of wrongdoing and has argued she is being unfairly targeted, Bloomberg News has reported. On Friday, she provided a separate statement to Bloomberg News.

“I have been suspended for the last 51 days on the basis of an anonymous whistle-blower complaint, and today I am informed that my employment has been terminated inter alia on grounds of ‘insubordination’,” Bose said in a statement.

Read the latest about the Zilingo dispute.

The dispute has flared up on social media and in a slew of media reports, including from Bloomberg News. On Friday, Zilingo said the speculation online has caused “irreparable damage” to the company.

“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,” it said in its statement.

Creditors of Zilingo have decided to recall their loans, prompting the company’s board to appoint an independent financial adviser for options for the troubled Singapore-based fashion tech startup.

Read more: Zilingo Appoints Financial Adviser as Creditors Recall Loan

The clash represents a dramatic turn of fate for one of Singapore’s most celebrated startups, which Bose founded with Dhruv Kapoor in 2015.

Some of the concerns relate to the way that Zilingo, which regulatory filings show had not filed annual financial statements since 2019, accounted for transactions and revenue across a platform spanning thousands of small merchants.

Zilingo’s directors talked regularly in mid-April to consider Bose’s future, and that of the startup itself, Bloomberg reported April 19. The co-founder, meanwhile, had pressed the board to clarify her status in part because she was concerned the company was growing rudder-less.

As the clash between Bose and the board escalated, Bose hired an attorney to fight back against what they have described as a “witch hunt.” Bose has argued that she is getting blamed for decisions and practices that were well known by senior managers and directors, people familiar with the matter have said.

Zilingo had been one of the highest-profile startups to emerge from Singapore. Major investor Temasek Holdings Pte has expressed concern the meltdown is tainting its reputation and urged the company to fix the situation, people familiar with the matter have said.

The company raised US$226 million at a valuation of US$970 million in 2019 when Bose was 27 years old. But the Covid-19 pandemic took a toll on its business: Revenue dropped by about a third in fiscal 2021 to roughly US$40 million. Bose took a pay cut of about 30% as a result, while the company laid off staff.

(Updates with company’s comments from the sixth paragraph)

—With assistance from Olivia Poh and Faris Mokhtar.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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