EDITOR’S NOTE: On Monday, we learned that a police report described in this story has been proven false by the City of London police.
It could be one of the most outrageous smear campaigns in modern corporate history or an attempt by a prominent tech investor to preempt negative media coverage of his misdeeds.
Shervin Pishevar, an Iranian-American venture capitalist, is famous for funding Uber, where he served as a strategic adviser, and has been a close ally of embattled former CEO Travis Kalanick. He is also the executive chairman of transportation startup Hyperloop One and the managing director of Sherpa Capital, which has invested in Airbnb, Uber, and Munchery.
So it raised eyebrows in Silicon Valley on Monday night when Pishevar filed a defamation lawsuit against Republican-led opposition research firm Definers Public Affairs, claiming that it conducted a “malicious smear campaign” against him. Some of the rumors outlined in the complaint have been circulating for months and reporters have been probing Pishevar’s associates with questions about some of the allegations. Among the “false, defamatory, and highly damaging” claims outlined in the complaint is a salacious allegation that Pishevar “paid money to settle a claim for sexual assault in London.”
The payoff claim is false, according to Pishevar’s lawsuit, but it doesn’t dispute the sexual assault accusation itself. That’s because Pishevar was indeed arrested last May on suspicion of rape at the Ned hotel in London, according to his crisis management expert and a copy of a police report seen by Fast Company, though he was never charged with any crime.
Amid the widening scandal over Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long history of sexually assaulting actresses and growing concern over the treatment of women in Silicon Valley, the revelation is sure to spur more questions about the toxic culture in such male-dominated industries.
According to a statement to Fast Company released by a crisis management expert working for Pishevar:
“In May 2017, Mr. Pishevar was detained briefly in London in connection with a alleged sexual assault, an allegation he categorically denied. He fully cooperated with the police investigation which was exhaustive and detailed. In July he was informed that no further action would be taken against him and he was “de-arrested” (a British legal term). Mr. Pishevar is grateful for the highly professional and expeditious manner in which the inquiry was conducted.
Mr. Pishevar is informed that several false rumors have been spread about him, including that he purportedly paid money to settle the claim. That is categorically false. It is because of false rumors like this that Mr. Pishevar was compelled to bring his legal action against Definers to ensure that his reputation is not destroyed and that the truth will always prevail.”
A City of London police report on the arrest, providing details about what happened that night, has been shared with some reporters, though its authenticity has not been verified and a court injunction filed by his lawyers in the United Kingdom ensured that the incident received little press attention in the U.K. (UPDATE: As noted above, this report has been proven to be false, according to a letter from the City of London comptroller.)
Pishevar was staying in the penthouse suite at the posh Ned hotel in London on May 27, when a young woman walked in to the nearby Bishopsgate police station and alleged that she had been raped, according to the report. Several police officers went to the hotel, arrested Pishevar, and interviewed and examined the alleged victim, per the report. She was attended to by a sexual crime unit, paramedics, and a medical practitioner, and officers searched Pishevar’s suite.
In the end, the police declined to bring charges, did not refer it for prosecution, and the case remains closed. Per a City of London police spokesperson: “The investigation was completed and reviewed. There was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction therefore no further action was taken against the suspect.” The incident was handled by the city’s “gold command,” the highest level of police and emergency service officials, due to Pishevar’s high profile, according to the report.
Several weeks later, news of the arrest was leaked to The Sun, the British tabloid known for its cut-throat competitiveness and lurid headlines. But after crime editor Mike Sullivan started making inquiries, Pishevar’s lawyers, from the self-described “reputation and privacy consultancy” Schillings International, went to court and obtained an injunction that gagged Britain’s newspapers from reporting details of the incident. The Sun ended up publishing a story that simply referred to Pishevar as a “billionaire” and a “tycoon,” reporting that he had paid his lawyers 100,000 pounds to obtain an injunction at High Court in London to prevent his name from being disclosed. According to The Sun‘s report, he was released on bail while strongly denying the rape allegation. Lawyers for The Sun and Schillings declined to return calls from Fast Company.
Due to its strict policy of not confirming the identity of those who’ve been arrested, the London police declined to provide more details. In a statement, a spokeswoman emailed Fast Company:
“Following your question around whether an arrest took place at the Ned hotel on 27 May 2017, please see our lines below:
“Following an investigation into a report of a rape at a location on Poultry, EC2, on Saturday, 27 May 2017, we can confirm that no further action will be taken.
“A 43-year-old man from San Francisco was initially arrested on suspicion of rape before being released under investigation.”
Pishevar, a hugely successful entrepreneur once described as Bill Gates’s worst nightmare due to his creation of a web-based operating system, has a reputation for being brilliant but difficult. As one of Uber’s early investors and strategic advisors, he has been close to founder Kalanick for years. During the ouster of Kalanick earlier this year, Pishevar wrote a melodramatic letter to the Uber board demanding that Benchmark Capital drop its lawsuit in the matter, a legal duel that he called “one of the grandest business and moral battles of our generation.” Pishevar used to take Kalanick to clubs in Los Angeles, even providing a car and a change of “club clothes,” according to a profile of Kalanick in the New York Times earlier this year. On one of those nightclub jaunts in 2013, the two men partied with Snoop Dogg and Suge Knight, witnessing the long-awaited reunion of the rap icons.
At least half a dozen former associates of Pishevar, including some who say they dislike him, have told Fast Company in recent weeks that they never saw him behave inappropriately in professional or social settings. And a search of court records in five counties in California and Maryland where Pishevar has lived in the last 15 years didn’t turn up any criminal cases.
According to Pishevar’s complaint, filed in San Francisco’s Superior Court, Definers Public Affairs was hired by “one or more of his business competitors” in order to “assassinate” Pishevar’s character and to “destroy his career.” Among the other stories spread about him, according to the complaint, were claims that he was an agent of the Russian government, friends with Russian president Vladimir Putin, and “had an incident with a prostitute in Europe.”
Definers is a opposition research firm set up by top Republican operatives, including Matt Rhoades, campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012. Another partner is Tim Miller, who was a communications aide to Jeb Bush in the 2016 campaign, and set up the firm’s Silicon Valley office in June to offer competitive intelligence services to the tech sector.
On Monday night, Miller denied the claims in the lawsuit, stating that “Pishevar’s claims are delusional. Definers has never engaged in any of the actions in his complaint nor done any work with regards to him.”
Pishevar has received numerous honors in his career—he was appointed by President Obama to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in 2015, was named an Outstanding American by Choice in 2012, and is a member of the UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council.
And he’s a major Democratic fundraiser, joining with George Clooney and his wife, Amal Clooney, to host an event for Hillary Clinton in April 2016 at Pishevar’s home in the Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. The price of admission: $353,000 per couple. The elite dinner and cocktails raised at least $2.3 million for Clinton’s presidential campaign. Since 2011, he’s personally donated $226,600 to the Democratic National Committee, as well as individual contributions to Barack Obama, Rep. Rohit Khanna, Senator Kamala Harris, and Senator Cory Booker, among others.
Pishevar’s Hyperloop One is booming, having just raised $85 million at a valuation in excess of $700 million, with Virgin CEO Richard Branson joining the board just last week. And Sherpa Capital, where Pishevar is a managing director, is reportedly in the process of raising a new fund of at least $400 million.
Ruth Reader contributed reporting to this story.
This story has been updated.