The world of artificial intelligence (AI) has been rocked by a recent scandal involving former CEO of Afiniti, Zia Chishti. Chishti, who was ousted from his position at the AI firm, has now been accused of conspiring with his wife, Sarah Pobereskin, and an “ex-employee of Afiniti” to steal trade secrets and set up competing companies in China, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

Zia Chisty

Afiniti, a global leader in AI-based customer interaction solutions, is known for its groundbreaking work in machine learning, data analysis, and advanced algorithms. The company has developed a proprietary technology that matches customers with agents who are best suited to their needs, thereby increasing customer satisfaction and boosting sales.

Chishti, who co-founded Afiniti in 2006 and served as CEO until his termination in 2020, was instrumental in the company’s success. However, his departure from the company was not without controversy. According to a statement from Afiniti, Chishti was sacked for “serious breaches of the company’s code of conduct, policies, and values.”

Afiniti’s lawyers claim Chishti has offered software to companies such as China Mobile which is held up by the Chinese government.

Afiniti says Chishti ‘conspired’ with his wife, Sarah Pobereskin and ‘others’, to ‘set up an array of companies in China, Pakistan, and elsewhere to improperly convert and commercially exploit Afiniti trade secrets’.

These allegedly ‘targeted and hired Afiniti employees with specific knowledge of Afiniti trade secrets and operations’.

They put down roots in the same office as Afiniti’s previous Chinese operation and imitated its branding, with its Chinese entity Qinhe meaning ‘affinity’ in English, the lawsuit stated. 

Chishti has disputed theft claims, dubbing allegations as ‘detached from reality’, and has said he offered Afiniti the chance to ‘promptly resolve the matter’.

The sex assault claim emerged when Tatiana Spottiswoode testified to Congress that she had been left with injuries after a work trip with Chishti. He denies the allegations and has launched defamation proceedings against her.

Chishti, for his part, has denied the allegations, and has filed a counterclaim against Afiniti, accusing the company of breach of contract and defamation. However, the evidence against Chishti and his co-conspirators appears to be strong, and the case is likely to be closely watched by the AI community and the wider business world.

A team of Paul Hastings attorneys is representing a multinational customer-support provider in theft of trade secrets claims against its former CEO, a man who became the subject of Congressional investigations last year around forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims. 

According to a new filing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Muhammad Ziaullah Khan Chishti, also known as Zia Chishti, left as CEO of Afiniti Inc. in November 2021, but when he did he took core company secrets and a team of employees and started a competing company overseas. 

The complaint alleges Chishti, his wife Sarah Pobereskin and former employees all conspired to take code related to the handling of incoming calls for call centers overseas. And, as if to add insult to injury the complaint states, they named the new company “Qinhe,” “a Chinese word that translates to “Affinity” in English, evoking Afiniti’s own name in China.” 

Qinhe is also among the defendants in the suit. Claims in the filing include breach of contract, the Defend Trade Secrets Act, District of Columbia Uniform Trade Secrets Act and civil conspiracy and RICO claims among others. 

Afiniti is asking for an injunction blocking Qinhe and other defendants from the continued use of their technology as well as an undisclosed sum of money. 

Chishti is a dual citizen of the United States and Pakistan. A graduate of Columbia and Stanford University where, while getting an orthodontic procedure done, he came up with clear retainers to adjust someone’s teeth. The technology would become what many know as Invisalign, a company valued over $1 billion when he sold his shares in 2003. 

In the years that followed he founded Afiniti, and while the company successfully built an AI-driven call center support system around the world, Chishti became the subject of congressional investigations about his treatment of employees in 2021. One such employee, Tatiana Spottiswoode, testified before congress that Chishti verbally and sexually abused her and he left Afiniti days later. 

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