Zilingo suspends CEO Ankiti

Singaporean business-to-business fashion e-commerce company Zilingo suspended its Indian founder and chief executive Ankiti Bose, after discrepancies were allegedly discovered in its accounting during a due-diligence process for a new funding round.

Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that the company, which supplies technology to apparel merchants and factories, had been trying to raise US$150 million ($205 million) to US$200 million with help from Goldman Sachs Group when investors began to question its finances.

The move, which could have boosted Zilingo's valuation to about US$1.2 billion, has since stalled.

Sources told Bloomberg that the start-up's investors, which include Singapore's sovereign wealth fund Temasek and Sequoia Capital India, have started an investigation into the financial practices.

Zilingo's auditor raised questions about its accounting, they said.

The concerns centre on the way that Zilingo, which regulators said has not filed annual financial statements since 2019, accounted for transactions and revenue across a platform spanning thousands of small merchants.

The Bloomberg report said Ms Bose (left) was called for a meeting on March 31 with three board members and was told about the complaints and alleged irregularities.

Ms Bose, who has been suspended till May 5, disputed the allegations and contested her suspension, calling the company's action a "witch hunt" that was triggered by harassment complaints she raised against an investor.

The 30-year-old, who has not commented, reportedly hired lawyer Abraham Vergis of Providence Law Asia to represent her.

The development represents a dramatic turn of fate for one of Singapore's most celebrated start-ups.

Zilingo was founded by Ms Bose and chief technology and product officer Dhruv Kapoor in Singapore seven years ago to help small businesses across South and South-east Asia sell their goods online.

The company began by working with small merchants that sell to consumers and then expanded into adjacent areas. As the founders started talking with small sellers, they realised many lacked access to robust technology and essential capital.

That led them to develop software and other tools that would allow merchants to access factories in places like Vietnam or Bengaluru and smooth the complicated process of shipping across borders.

In 2018, Zilingo began to team up with financial technology firms to provide working capital to small sellers so they could buy raw materials to make goods.

In early 2019, Zilingo raised US$226 million from investors including Sequoia and Temasek and pushed its valuation to US$970 million - almost the US$1 billion mark that earns start-ups designation as a unicorn.

Ms Bose was then celebrated as a visionary and a sign of the entrepreneurial potential for South-east Asia.

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