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The disgraced founder of Princess Beatrice’s artificial intelligence firm has been accused by the company of stealing its technology and setting up a rival in China.

Zia Chishti allegedly took source code and other trade secrets when he left Afiniti in 2021, following sexual assault allegations against him.

Bermuda-based Afiniti, which previously boasted David Cameron as an adviser and employs Princess Beatrice as its vice president of partnerships and strategy, claimed Mr Chishti had taken the technology by refusing to relinquish his company computer when he resigned.

He has since set up his own companies in Pakistan and China and started to offer technology to state-backed companies including China Mobile, according to the lawsuit filed in Washington DC.

Mr Chishti, a high-flying Washington entrepreneur who founded Afiniti in 2005 after making a fortune as the inventor of Invisalign dental braces, was forced to step down in November 2021 when Tatiana Spottiswoode, a former employee, gave evidence to the US House of Representatives that he had assaulted her when she was on a work trip with him, leaving her with injuries.

Ms Spottiswoode had been awarded more than $5m (£4.1m) after a secret arbitration, and her public revelations in Congress forced Mr Chishti’s resignation.  

Afiniti had been valued at more than $1bn. It kept a roster of high-profile advisers and directors on its payroll, including Mr Cameron and former US defence chief Mike Mullen, who both quit after the allegations against Mr Chishti.

Jose Aznar, the former Spanish president, and John Snow, the former US Treasury Secretary, sit on the company’s board.

Afiniti’s lawsuit, filed earlier this month, says Mr Chishti “conspired with his wife, Sarah Pobereskin, and others to set up an array of companies based in China, Pakistan, and elsewhere to improperly convert and commercially exploit Afiniti Trade Secrets”.

The company’s technology is sold to customer service departments including AT&T, Sky and Virgin Media to more efficiently match call centre staff with customers.

Afiniti claims that Mr Chishti’s new entities “targeted and hired Afiniti employees with specific knowledge of Afiniti trade secrets and operations”, setting up in the same office as its former Chinese operation and mimicking its logo. The Chinese entity, Qinhe, translates as “affinity” in English.

Larry Babbio, who replaced Mr Chishti as Afiniti chief executive, recently told staff: “We will continue to vigorously enforce our legal rights, whether in China or elsewhere and we are confident that the action we are taking today will deliver the right result.”

Mr Chishti denied he had stolen technology. He said: “Afiniti’s allegations are detached from reality. I have offered to Afiniti to promptly resolve the matter by reviewing Isbei’s code base, meticulously maintained on Github. This will make it clear that there has been no misappropriation. It will be telling if Afiniti refuses this offer.”

In December, Mr Chishti and Ms Pobereskin launched defamation proceedings against Ms Spottiswoode. The US Congress later made public the previously-secret arbitration ruling against him, which awarded Ms Spottiswoode millions. It said his conduct had been “outrageous in character and extreme in degree, going beyond all possible bounds of decency”.

 Mr Chishti continues to deny the allegations.  

Afiniti declined to comment.


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