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Afiniti founder resigns as chairman and CEO

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Resigned: Zia Chishti, the founder of Afiniti Ltd, has resigned as chairman and chief executive officer of the company

The founder of a billion-dollar data software company in Bermuda has quit the firm after he was accused of a sex assault.

Zia Chishti resigned his three senior posts at Afiniti in the wake of the allegations by a former employee.

The firm said: “The board of directors of Afiniti Ltd has announced that Mr Zia Chishti has stepped down from his role as chairman, chief executive officer, and director of Afiniti, effective immediately.

“The board will make additional organisational announcements in the coming days.”

A spokeswoman said yesterday that Larry Babbio, a board member since 2016 and a former president of communications firm Verizon, had been appointed as the new chairman.

Afiniti, which operates across 20 countries, did not confirm this week what the company’s long-term plans were for Bermuda.

But a labour ministry spokesman said: "As a Bermuda-based company, Afiniti is required to meet the economic substance requirements under Bermuda's laws and regulations.

“There has been no indication that the company will discontinue expanding its presence in Bermuda.”

Tatiana Spottiswoode, an ex-employee at the firm, made allegations against Mr Chishti in testimony before a House of Representatives judiciary committee earlier this week.

She accused the 50-year-old of beating her after he allegedly pressured her into having sex with him on a work trip to Brazil in 2017.

Ms Spottiswoode also alleged he sexually harassed her.

She told the committee, which was set up to examine employee non-disclosure agreements, that her employment contract and a later referral to arbitration made it impossible for her to make the allegations public.

A spokesman for Afiniti, which earlier announced it wanted to employ 1,000 people on the island, denied the allegations and said Mr Chishti “strongly disputes all accusations against him”.

Dame Jennifer Smith, a former premier, said she stepped down from her post on Afiniti’s board of directors last June – about five months before the allegations were made public – because of “unrelated personal matters”.

David Cameron, a former British Conservative prime minister, quit his role as chairman of the company’s advisory board after the allegations emerged.

A spokesman for Mr Cameron said he understood that the allegations were disputed but that he “disagrees with the approach being taken by the company in responding to the matter”.

GAM, a global asset management firm and “long-term investor” in Afiniti, asked for an independent review of the accusations.

A GAM spokesman said yesterday: “Following the allegations made public at a hearing of the US House Judiciary Committee, as a long-term investor, GAM has asked Afiniti for a full independent review of the allegations and associated corporate practices.

“Our ownership of the stock is under active review.”

Afiniti has been incorporated in Bermuda since 2011 and was valued at $1.6 billion in 2017.

Jason Hayward, the Minister of Labour (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Jason Hayward, the Minister of Labour, announced in October last year that 90 Afiniti staff were expected to move to Bermuda under the Government’s one-year digital nomad scheme while the company applied for traditional work permits.

He said then: “If successful, the work permits will allow the immediate transfer of staff to the local company.

“The work permit applications will be for individuals highly skilled in the specialised field of artificial intelligence. This is extremely good news for Bermuda.”

Mr Hayward said Afiniti anticipated “significant growth in its work force”, and that it wanted its workforce to be 50 per cent Bermudian.

He added: “I’m sure we all look forward to more companies following Afiniti’s lead.”

Mr Chishti, who founded the company in 2005, claimed that it could account for 10 per cent of the island’s gross domestic product by about the middle of the decade.

He said last January: “I've moved here full-time. We have directors' meetings here and increasing percentages of the management team are coming here.

“We are now up to about 65 full-time staff in Bermuda. By early 2021 it will be well over 100. The plan is to be at circa 1,000 in Bermuda in five years.

"We are probably 1 per cent of Bermuda's GDP, and if we do our part then we should be around 10 per cent of the GDP – just our one company – within five years."

But by June it emerged that 65 of the 79 personnel then working on the island would relocate to Turkey.

Mr Hayward said earlier this month that Afiniti still had plans for a physical presence in Bermuda, which he said was “positive”.

Mr Chishti also cofounded Align Technology – the company behind the Invisalign dental treatment.

A LinkedIn page in his name showed that he was the chairman and chief executive officer of the firm until March 2002.

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