Pi­she­var takes leave amid al­le­ga­tions

Ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist says he’s tar­get of ‘smear cam­paign’

USA TODAY International Edition - - MONEY - Marco della Cava

SAN FRAN­CISCO – Less than a week af­ter be­ing hit with claims that he sex­u­ally ha­rassed six women, Vir­gin Hyper­loop One co-founder Shervin Pi­she­var said Tues­day he was tak­ing a leave of ab­sence from his busi­nesses to fo­cus on a law­suit against a re­search firm that he be­lieves is be­hind a smear cam­paign.

The ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist, an early in­vestor in Uber, was put in the na­tion’s grow­ing sex­ual-ha­rass­ment spot­light last week. A Bloomberg re­port charged that he groped early Uber em­ployee Austin Geidt at a 2014 Uber party, cit­ing un­named wit­nesses. Geidt, cur­rently head of op­er­a­tions, has not com­mented on the mat­ter. The re­port also said he ha­rassed other women in pro­fes­sional set­tings.

Pi­she­var last week re­sponded to those claims through cri­sis man­age­ment spokesper­son Mark Fabi­ani, say­ing Pi­she­var was the fo­cus of a “smear cam­paign.”

Pi­she­var’s state­ment Tues­day said he had “de­cided to take an im­me­di­ate leave of ab­sence from my du­ties at Sherpa Cap­i­tal and Vir­gin Hyper­loop One, as well as my port­fo­lio com­pany board re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, so that I can pur­sue the pros­e­cu­tion of my law­suit, where I am con­fi­dent I will be vin­di­cated.”

The ven­ture cap­i­tal firm he co­founded, Sherpa Cap­i­tal, said it was launch­ing an in­de­pen­dent in­ter­nal re­view to “en­sure our prac­tices and op­er­a­tions con­tinue to re­flect the high­est pro­fes­sional and eth­i­cal stan­dards.”

“We re­spect and sup­port Shervin’s de­ci­sion to take a leave of ab­sence while he pur­sues his rights un­der the law,” the state­ment, re­leased Tues­day, said. “We rec­og­nize the in­her­ent chal­lenges of re­port­ing mis­con­duct, but note that Sherpa has never re­ceived a sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaint.”

Although the ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist’s other busi­ness part­ners have re­mained silent about the ac­cu­sa­tions, two Demo­cratic se­na­tors — Ka­mala Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia and Cory Booker of New Jer­sey — who re­ceived do­na­tions from Pi­she­var, a big Demo­cratic donor, said they were giv­ing his do­na­tions to or­ga­ni­za­tions that sup­port women who are deal­ing with sex­ual vi­o­lence.

Sil­i­con Val­ley Bank, which in late Oc­to­ber in­vested in a Sherpa ef­fort called Sil­i­con Foundry — which aims to con­nect start-ups with es­tab­lished com­pa­nies and re­cently opened a 12,500square-foot San Fran­cisco head­quar­ters — did not re­spond to mul­ti­ple email and tele­phone mes­sages seek­ing com­ment.

A Vir­gin spokesper­son would not com­ment on the al­le­ga­tions but con­firmed that the com­pany re­mains an in­vestor in Hyper­loop One. While the size of Vir­gin’s in­vest­ment in the 700-mph tube trans­porta­tion sys­tem is un­known, it was large enough to war­rant adding its name to the en­ter­prise.

The law­suit Pi­she­var is fight­ing stems from an in­ci­dent in Lon­don last May in which a woman told po­lice that she had been raped by Pi­she­var at a ho­tel.

A month later, Pi­she­var got a court in­junc­tion that pre­vented Bri­tish me­dia out­lets from nam­ing him, although that rul­ing did not ap­ply to U.S. me­dia. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Forbes re­port, Lon­don po­lice of­fi­cials closed the case in July due to in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence.

A po­lice re­port cited by some me­dia that con­tained de­tails about the in­ci­dent was deemed to be a forgery. That re­port incited Pi­she­var’s ire and sus­pi­cions, and he sub­se­quently sued Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based De­fin­ers Public Af­fairs, a public af­fairs and re­search firm.

“Through the (case’s) dis­cov­ery process, I hope to un­earth who fab­ri­cated the fraud­u­lent Lon­don ‘po­lice re­port,’ and who is re­spon­si­ble for spread­ing false ru­mors about me,” Pi­she­var said. “This was a de­ci­sion I came to and pro­posed on my own ac­cord. It is not one I took lightly, and it was a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion that was guided by Sherpa Cap­i­tal’s abid­ing be­lief in ser­vice and putting oth­ers be­fore our­selves.”

De­fin­ers part­ner Tim Miller called Pi­she­var’s ac­cu­sa­tions “delu­sional.”

“We have never en­gaged in any of the ac­tions he out­lined in this com­plaint, and De­fin­ers has never done any work with re­gards to Mr. Pi­she­var,” Miller said.

The Bloomberg re­port also fea­tured anec­dotes from five other women who al­lege that Pi­she­var lever­aged his po­si­tion of power to make un­wanted sex­ual ad­vances. Although the women are anony­mous, Bloomberg backed up its find­ings by cor­rob­o­rat­ing ac­counts with peo­ple the women told about the al­leged be­hav­ior, as well as by re­view­ing Face­book mes­sages re­lated to the in­ci­dents.

“He ba­si­cally jumped on me, tried to put his tongue down my throat, and I stopped it,” said one of the women in the Bloomberg re­port. “I wanted to get ca­reer ad­vice, and it was twisted into some­thing else.”

“I hope to un­earth ... who is re­spon­si­ble for spread­ing false ru­mors about me.” Shervin Pi­she­var

Shervin Pi­she­var is co-founder of Vir­gin Hyper­loop and Sherpa Cap­i­tal. Pi­she­var says he will “pur­sue the pros­e­cu­tion of my law­suit, where I am con­fi­dent I will be vin­di­cated” of the sex­ual-ha­rass­ment claims. JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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