How tech firm Afiniti's float was torpedoed by scandal

Jan 5, 2022

How an elite tech float was torpedoed by scandal: Afiniti is backed by Royals and David Cameron... but now they'll miss out on making millions

By Mark Shapland For The Daily Mail

Published: 21:50 GMT, 5 January 2022 | Updated: 21:50 GMT, 5 January 2022

Princess Beatrice and other high-profile staff at Afiniti are set to miss out on a bumper pay day after the tech firm shelved plans for a stock market listing, the Daily Mail can reveal.

The company was looking to float this year in New York but in November founder and chief executive Zia Chishti stepped down after a former employee Tatiana Spottiswoode accused him of grooming her and then beating her during sex.

The scandal saw David Cameron resign from the company’s advisory board in further embarrassment for the former prime minister who was caught up in the Greensill scandal last year.

Embarrassment: Ex-Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured) resigned from Afiniti's advisory board

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Embarrassment: Ex-Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured) resigned from Afiniti's advisory board

Afiniti, which was founded in 2005 and provides technology to call centres, was valued at £1.1billion and hired upmarket merchant bank Liontree to look into a Spac deal. 

Spacs, which are shell companies which list on the stock market, raising millions from investors with the purpose of buying an existing company.

The float would have given Beatrice, Prince Harry’s old friend Tom ‘Skippy’ Inskip, former England rugby world cup winner Will Greenwood and Archie Soames, nephew to Nicholas and Rupert Soames, a considerable payday as all are understood to own minority stakes in the business.

Eton-educated Inskip is chief commercial officer and Greenwood is a chief customer officer in the UK. Soames is a managing director. A source close to the company said: ‘They’ve snookered themselves. The IPO is toast for now.’

It is not known if Cameron retained his stake in the firm after he resigned. The scandal was a hammer blow for the former PM who had wanted to put Greensill behind him and restore his reputation.

Royal hanger on: Princess Beatrice has defied calls from women’s rights groups to step down

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Royal hanger on: Princess Beatrice has defied calls from women’s rights groups to step down

Instead it added to his shambolic post-political career and left his judgment in question again.

He had joined Afiniti in 2019 as chairman of the board of advisers, saying he would help ‘support work to transform the future of customer service and interpersonal communications’.

Beatrice stayed on after the scandal broke, despite a string of resignations and calls for her to step down by women’s rights groups.

The princess joined the firm in 2016 and worked her way up to be a vice president. She has been on maternity leave since September but is understood to have demanded answers about recent events.

But even before the sexual assault allegations broke there was a murky shadow around Afiniti and Chishti.

The Bermuda-headquartered firm drew much attention to itself by hiring world famous politicians, royals and aristocrats.

Those who know Chishti – who was born in the US to an American father and Pakistani mother – say he was always drawn in by the glamorous life and wanted the contacts books of these men and women to give Afiniti access to any boardroom in the world. 

Before Afiniti, Chishti became a multi-millionaire by founding Invisalign, which manufactures clear braces for teeth.

Spottiswoode’s evidence against Chishti, 50, referenced a work trip to Brazil, where the alleged assaults took place, and an invitation to a ski trip in 2014.

Insiders say the company was renowned for its raucous parties and high-profile ski trips, one of which took place weeks before coronavirus struck in 2020.

It saw Beatrice lead a ‘high-level delegation’ to Pakistan, where Chishti lived between 1974 and 1988. The point of these trips was to promote Pakistan as safe for international investors and businesses. Afiniti has offices in Karachi and Lahore.

Penalty: Former England rugby world cup winner Will Greenwood (pictured) was among those in line for a bumper payday

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Penalty: Former England rugby world cup winner Will Greenwood (pictured) was among those in line for a bumper payday

The junket, hosted by the country’s President Arif Alvi, brought together ‘tech professionals, entrepreneurs and multinational CEOs’ from around the world for the ‘unique expedition’. It caused a stir after photos emerged of Beatrice chatting with Imran Khan and former Italian PM Matteo Renzi.

‘It was all a bit odd. To have some of the world’s most rich and powerful men and women up a mountain together in Pakistan. But Zia has always wanted to be part of this set,’ the source continued.

Chishti has a mixed reputation in Pakistan. His investment company TRG Pakistan – which owns a majority stake in Afiniti and is listed in Karachi – was probed in 2020 over alleged insider trading. 

It wrote to Pakistan’s Securities and Exchange Commission in December 2020 stating: ‘We have no formal means of knowing what speculations are circulating in the market and are unable to directly address these.’

The lack of information in the letter did little to enhance TRG’s reputation or stop the rumour mill.

Chishti also stepped down from TRG in November.

Afiniti has been less than honest in its dealings in Bermuda, too. In January last year it vowed to employ 1,000 staff on the island over five years. Around 60 employees left the island last year.

While Afiniti’s unravelling has been swift, questions remain over how so many high-profile politicians and members of the British establishment managed to be enticed to the firm.

One former Tory MP said: ‘I was approached in London for a role at the company when I left office. They headhunt a certain type.’

What is for sure is Chishti has damaged his reputation as well the long list of public figures personally associated with him. 

To make matters worse they won’t be getting the pay day they perhaps were hoping for.

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