The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has a reputation as a violent place, with one of the highest levels of crime in the country. In May, a dozen local politicians got WhatsApp messages that threatened harm to their families unless they paid $14,000.
Yet even by local standards, an extortion plot that’s regions in recent weeks stands out for its sheer outlandishness. It’s the case of a celebrated startup founder, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, who allegedly was aimed by one of his most trusted lieutenants for millions in ransom. The billionaire entrepreneur made India’s most popular digital payments service called Paytm.
Local police have arrested Paytm vice president Sonia Dhawan, her husband and another Paytm employee for allegedly stealing Sharma’s personal data so they could get money. The three are in custody at Luksar Jail in Noida, the New Delhi suburb where Paytm is headquartered. Authorities are hunting for a fourth person, who allegedly made ransom telephone to Sharma. A lawyer for Dhawan and her husband denies they did anything wrong.
Key questions are still unanswered. Why would a nine-year veteran of Paytm turn against her boss when she had so much to lose? Were Dhawan and her suspected collaborators pressured to act against Sharma by the true culprits, as Sharma himself has suggested? What is the data the group allegedly stole? The investigation touches on one of India’s most successful entrepreneurs, whose backers include Masayoshi Son of SoftBank Group Corp. and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.