Viresh Joshi, a former fund manager and chief trader of Axis Mutual Fund, has filed a lawsuit and demanded Rs 54 crore in damages, accusing the asset management company of unfairly terminating his employment in connection with a suspected front-running case.
Axis Asset Management Co. Ltd. (Axis AMC), India’s seventh-largest mutual fund house with assets worth Rs 2.43 trillion, sacked Joshi on May 18 in the case in which Joshi and his former colleague and assistant fund manager Deepak Agarwal are under
The fund house also sacked Agarwal on May 20. Axis AMC had first suspended Joshi on May 3 before letting him go.
The lawsuit follows a legal notice Joshi’s lawyers sent to the fund house on May 20, seeking a detailed explanation as to why he had been sacked pending completion of the investigation into the alleged front-running case.
The fund house has so far not publicly disclosed the exact nature of wrongdoings that it has been investigating, but has maintained that there have been alleged violations of securities law.
Axis AMC has given a detailed termination letter to Viresh Joshi on May 18, 2022, and cited five reasons why the company had sacked him. The letter also accused Viresh Joshi of violating securities laws.
1. Viresh Joshi did not cooperate with the investigation and did not provide the information the probe agencies sought from him.
2. Assets of Viresh Joshi were disproportionate to his legal income and he did not provide the sources of the ‘disproportionate assets’.
3. A former fund manager and chief trader repeatedly gave false statements to the investigating team, orally and in writing as well.
4 (i). He failed to disclose an email (on his official and personal email ID) that someone sent him in January alleging he was engaged in front-running.
4 (ii). Did not disclose that he had a personal email id, to the investigation team, contrary to an undertaking he had given to Axis MF in February 2022.
5. Failed to give contents of the above-mentioned personal email account to the investigators and deleted contents of one of the above email accounts.
In his lawsuit, Joshi has claimed that contrary to Axis AMC’s claim that it had received a tip-off from an external source alerting it to the alleged front-running activity, it was he who had first told his seniors about increased activity in the shares he had been trading on behalf of the fund house.
He claims that he had begun to alert the fund house in around June 2021. Between November 2021 and January 2022, trading activity in the shares he dealt with on behalf of the fund house, spiked, he added in his lawsuit. This, he claims, led to the fund house starting an investigation.
The fund house also roped in two agencies to investigate the front-running case. The agencies have been tasked with identifying lapses, ascertaining if other individuals were involved in any way, and also finding the number of illegal gains that could have been made.
Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has launched a separate probe into the matter. In May, Sebi carried out extensive search and seizure operations across multiple cities to gather evidence on alleged front-running.
The regulator has seized various records, documents, and digital evidence from phones, laptops, and hard drives used by 16 suspected entities.