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BlackRock whistleblower alleges cover-up of search engine to spot Chinese investments

In Business
May 20, 2024

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – BlackRock was sued for $20 million by a whistleblowing former vice president who said the asset manager fired him after shutting down a search engine that could monitor client discussions about illegal investments, including in China.

In a complaint on Saturday, Hamdan Azhar said BlackRock ordered him in March 2022 to stop work on Trend Spotter, which he had developed, and transfer his projects to Rightpoint, where the husband of his former boss Tiffany Perkins-Munn worked.

The Brooklyn resident said he was fired two months later after objecting persistently to a $2 million contract that BlackRock awarded Rightpoint before Perkins-Munn’s own resignation, calling it “illegal self-dealing.”

He also said his new boss Riaz Hakkim refused to escalate concerns about illegal investments that Trend Spotter could have tracked, and whether its revelations aligned with BlackRock’s public disclosures to investors and regulators.

Azhar said he began developing Trend Spotter in March 2021 as a “hackathon” project, and that it received “widespread attention within BlackRock. The New York-based company ended March with $10.5 trillion of assets under management.

BlackRock had no immediate comment on Monday.

Last summer, the bipartisan House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party began seeking information on whether BlackRock and index provider MSCI facilitated investments into blacklisted Chinese companies.

In April, the committee found that Wall Street, through index fund investments, channeled $6.5 billion in 2023 into 63 Chinese companies flagged by the U.S. government for supporting China’s military or human rights abuses.

BlackRock and MSCI denied wrongdoing and said they comply with U.S. laws.

Azhar said he joined BlackRock in Feb. 2020 as head of data science for global marketing.

His lawsuit a New York state court in Manhattan seeks $10 million each of compensatory damages and punitive damages for violating state labor law.

Perkins-Munn and Hakkim are also defendants, and according to the complaint now work respectively at JPMorgan Chase and Fidelity Investments.

Neither company immediately responded to requests for comment. Azhar’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a similar request.

The case is Azhar v BlackRock Inc et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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