Not disclosing consensual extra-marital affair lead to Binny's resignation as CEO: reports

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 16, 2018 11:56 hrs
Binny Bansal

On Thursday, nearly two days after Walmart and Flipkart made a joint announcement on Binny Bansal's resignation, media reports blamed non-disclosure of a consensual extra-marital affair for Bansal's departure as the CEO at Flipkart.

A woman who had been reportedly working with Flipkart years ago complained to Walmart that Bansal had sexually assaulted her in 2016. This was after Flipkart and Walmart had finalized a $16 billion sale for a 77% ownership in the Indian e-commerce major.

Walmart, according to Bloomberg, took the allegations seriously and appointed a global law firm to investigate the charges.

An independent probe concluded that the relationship between Binny and the complainant was consensual. Investigators also said that Binny's extramarital relationship was at a time when the complainant was not an employee of Flipkart.

The report said that the co-founder should have disclosed the details of the relationship. A litigation post the merger could have lead to litigation risks. People associated with the company also informed the report that more clarity from Binny was expected, especially on why the complainant had remained silent for so many years and if he had paid to buy her silence.

Legal experts say that Binny may not be obligated to inform new owners on a previous intimate relationship; a relationship that investigators claim did not occur within the boundaries of the company. Walmart could have weighed the pros of retaining a top leader vis-a-vis the cons of litigation and harassment charges.

Binny, other media reports imply may have had seen the end of the tunnel. He wrote an e-mail describing events and thanking colleagues on Saturday. His e-mail refers to the resignation and turn of events as "personal".

"Thank you for all the goodwill that you've shown towards me over the years... I am grateful to have had the opportunity to help get us to where we are today," he writes in an emotional sign off.

So far, Binny has maintained an eerie silence from reports that have narrated speculative theories. These theories are as confusing as Flipkart and Walmart's initial press release on the resignation.

The only public comments that Binny has made so far:

1. "The allegations left me stunned and I strongly deny them."

2. "I am concerned that this [allegation] may become a distraction for the company... I feel it is best to step away."

3. "My plan was to continue in my current role... However, my decision to step down has been accellerated by certain personal events."

The case still needs clarity from both Walmart as well as Binny. While Walmart may have to explain whether this is an ouster or a step-down for a leader who was once referred to as "The back-end guy" at Flipkart, Binny may have to add on the "personal" things.

Binny, referred to as the last Bansal at Flipkart holds close to 5.5% and by that virtue still reserves a seat for himself at the Flipkart board. His departure as CEO, however may have created an element of surprise. Flipkart employees have not taken kindly to the departure. Anonymous employees were quoted in an ET story saying that the CEO has changed quite often. Adapting to a new manager and work culture, they explain, takes time.

Speculations are also rife that Ananth Narayanan, the CEO at Myntra, a group company under Flipkart, may not be too keen to work under with the new boss Kalyan Krishnamurthy. Unidentified sources informed MoneyControl that Ananth may not work long with Kalyan post a new company structure. Rishi Vasudev working in Kalyan's team had already been handling Fashion portfolio, and hence Ananth's displeasure the report speculated.

The boardroom fiasco at Flipkart has also sparked concerns among the startup industry with many debating on the extent of disclosures a foreign entrant to India may require.

Was Walmart correct in asking for disclosures related to a relationship that occurred years ago? Was Binny guilty in holding back this information? Do drop your comments!

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