- Once a part of Washington’s elite circles, he lost his top job at the multibillion-dollar AI startup Afiniti last year after a former employee accused him of sexual abuse.
A Pakistani American investor and business executive, who once hobnobbed with the Washington elite, is caught up in a sexual assault saga, that cost him his job, his reputation and his credibility. Last year, Zia Chishti, 51, lost his top job at the multibillion-dollar AI startup Afiniti, which uses artificial intelligence technology to power call centers around the world, after a former employee accused him of sexual abuse.
Chishti is the founder of Afiniti, as well as the business process outsourcing company TRG. He also founded the company behind Invisalign dental braces, which is now valued at $47 billion, according to his Wikipedia page.
In a Nov. 16, 2021 Congressional testimony, Tatiana Spottiswoode, 29, now a law student at Columbia University, described how Chishti “violently” abused her. The daughter of Affinity co-founder, she began working at the company in 2016. Her allegations were heard at a House Judiciary committee meeting investigating “the impacts of forced arbitration clauses against victims of sexual harassment and assault,” Vice reported.
Chishti not only denied the accusations, but he also filed a defamation lawsuit against her over those claims. In the lawsuit, he maintained that his relationship with Spottiswoode was consensual, albeit unusual, marked by “the sharing of minor scratch, bite, whip, and slap marks,” as reported by Politico. “This case is about a consensual love affair between Ms. Tatiana Spottiswoode and me that was successfully weaponized by Spottiswoode by deliberately lying to and misleading Congress while under oath,” read the lawsuit, according to Politico.
However, last week, Chishti’s records, until now a “secret report,” turned into “a publicly available document,” as the House Judiciary Committee “entered a sharply critical 2019 arbitration tribunal ruling about Chishti’s workplace behavior,” as described by Politico.
According to Politico, “the document appears utterly devastating for Chishti,” as its conclusions are in stark contrast with those filed in Chisti’s lawsuit. “The report by independent arbitrator Ronald G. Birch declared that “Chisti had repeatedly sexually harassed an employee half his age, groped her in front of colleagues, insulted her for rejecting advances, brutally beaten her during a business-trip sexual encounter, and lied about it,” Politico said. The arbitrator also awarded Spottiswoode over $5 million, calling Chishti’s conduct “outrageous in character and extreme in degree, going beyond all possible bounds of decency, the report added, noting that “the payments, assessed both to Chishti individually and to the company, were made after the ruling was issued.”
In her harrowing testimony on Nov. 16, 2021, Spottiswoode, said Chishti sexually assaulted and beat her on a business trip to Brazil in 2017, said told the committee in a prepared statement. She described being “groomed” at age 21, humiliated in front of colleagues after rebuffing her former employer’s advances, and subjected to traumatizing sexual she said. “I told him he was hurting me. He said, ‘Good.’ … I hid in my hotel room until the next day. My body was covered with scratches, cuts and contusions. I had bruises around my neck that looked like I had been strangled, a large bump on my head and a black eye. A nurse at the hospital said that I had the symptoms of a concussion.”
According to Politico, “the testimony led to a rapid exodus of prominent names from Afiniti’s advisory board, and, soon afterwards, to the ouster of Chishti.” He, however, declined to address the report, Politico said, but sent an email. “Unlike my accuser and her attorneys, I will respect my legal obligations around confidentiality and will not comment on the arbitration,” read the email.
Politico noted that during his time at Afiniti, “Chishti cut an interesting figure in the capital, in part because he was an exotic rarity: the Beltway business bigwig who had made his money in the actual private sector, not in some familiar government-adjacent sector like federal contracting.” He flew by corporate jet, and “was introduced around Davos by Britain’s Princess Beatrice, and counted former New Hampshire Senator John Sununu, former U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow, and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as members of Afiniti’s board of directors.” Washington Post publisher and CEO Fred Ryan was an early investor.
But last November, following Chishti’s departure, Former British Prime Minister David Cameron, who served as the chair of Afiniti’s advisory board, also resigned from his position, Telegraph reported at the time. According to the report, Princess Beatrice, who currently serves as the company’s vice president of partnerships and strategy, has been urged to resign from her post. However, the board still continues to retain other influential members including Snow, Pakistan’s former finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, and Spain’s former president Jose Maria Aznar.
After she accused him, Spottiswoode said Chishti “initiated arbitration against her in an attempt to silence her,” she said during her testimony.“He knew that the secrecy of arbitration would protect him,” she said, adding that he sued her father “to punish and scare her.”
She also mentioned an unidentified woman employee, who was also sexually abused in Dubai in 2016. Two former employees confirmed the news to Bloomberg, noting that she “allegedly reached a settlement with Afiniti that prevented her from speaking out about the incident.”
Who is Zia Chishti?
Chishti was born as Wilson Lear in Bar Harbor, Maine to a Pakistani mother and an American father. After his father died in 1974, he and his mother moved to Lahore, Pakistan, where he was renamed Zia Chishti. In 1988, he moved to New York City to pursue an undergraduate degree in computer science and economics at Columbia University.
He started his career as a Morgan Stanley investment banker, and worked in New York and London, on mergers and acquisitions. He also worked for McKinsey & Company[ as a management consultant in London. In 1997, he graduated from Stanford University with an MBA.
He invented the medical device Invisalign and co-founded Align Technology to market the product in 1997. He served as CEO of Align until 2003 when he founded the investment fund The Resource Group. In 2005 he co-founded both Orthoclear and Afiniti. He was a named inventor on around 150 issued patents by 2018 and had co-founded three unicorn startup companies.
Wikipedia has called him “a critic of the ‘hype’ surrounding artificial intelligence, “arguing that society is headed for another AI winter.” He has stated that “the benefits of artificial intelligence are evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, and current successful use cases of the technology revolve around the identification of patterns within complex data, including medical image anomaly detection, hydrocarbon detection, consumer behavioral prediction and fraud detection,” the page said.