Three employees of Paytm, the mega e-commerce payment system, were arrested on Monday by the Sector 20 police in Noida, on allegations of stealing confidential data from CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s laptop and extorting him to leak the information if they were not paid ₹20 crore.
The stolen data included passwords and pins of Sharma’s cash cards, business plans and his bank account details.
The masterminds who have now been arrested are Sonia Dhawan, the CEO’s personal secretary, her husband Rupak Jain and Devendra Kumar, who was from the company’s administrative department. The court, on Tuesday, sent the three to a 14 days custody.
According to police officials, the fourth suspect, Rohit Chomal, a resident from Kolkata who had been allegedly blackmailing Vijay with calls from Thailand, is now apparently on the run.
Meanwhile, the company assured its customers that their personal credentials were protected with high-level security. “All our consumer data is protected with the highest and most impenetrable levels of security. Until the final results of the investigation are known, we do not wish to comment further,” stated Paytm.
The company is backed by one of the world’s most influential investors – billionaire Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathway, who released an official statement on the case on Tuesday saying, “This is a case of personal data theft of Vijay Shekhar Sharma, where three arrests were made yesterday. All other customer information remains safeguarded.”
Noida Police believes that since Dhawan had all the information up her sleeve as Sharma’s secretary, the blackmailers had access to “all personal data and secret information of Paytm.” She has emerged as the perfect insider, said one of the officials, referring to Dhawan. She controlled the extortion calls made by Chomal whilst convincing her boss to “pay up”, they said.
On further investigation, it was found that Dhawan was in contact with both the parties and had planned every move. Sharma informed the media that she almost convinced him into giving in to her blackmails. “Pay up for now. Or God knows what kind of data may be available for us to leak,” was one of the extortion messages found by Ajay Pal Sharma, Noida’s Senior Superintendent of Police.
The officials have recently found a hard disc which has “all calls/chat records of extortion” made by the four accused employees which the police’s cyber team are now trying to break down in order to crack the case furthermore.
However, the intent or motive behind this extortion is still not clear. Some Paytm employers stated that Dhawan had been planning to buy a new, bigger house. Police reports also mentioned her husband Rupak Jain’s deteriorating financial condition which may have added to the motive. Chomal, the fourth accused, had apparently been promised 20% of the extortion amount by Dhawan, her husband and Kumar.
When Dhawan was arrested from Paytm headquarters in Noida on Monday, the company employers were left absolutely stunned. According to a police source, “The Paytm bosses trusted her completely. They are trying to come to terms with the fact that she could do something like this.”
The Noida police and their cyber team have found enough information against Chomal, who is now on the run, and hope to arrest him soon enough.