Hyperloop One co-founder takes leave to pursue defamation lawsuit

'I really wish that I outed you sooner'
'I really wish that I outed you sooner'

Prominent Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur Shervin Pishevar is distancing himself from his venture capital firm and startup to pursue a defamation lawsuit.

Pishevar, an investor in companies like Uber and Airbnb, issued a statement on Tuesday that he is taking an immediate leave of absence from Sherpa Capital, where he is a managing partner and cofounder. He will not be involved with portfolio duties during this time.

In the statement, obtained by CNN Tech, Pishevar said he's also taking a leave of absence from Virgin Hyperloop One, the transportation startup he cofounded.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that five unnamed women accused Pishevar of sexual assault and harassment. In response to the allegations, Pishevar's spokesman Mark Fabiani said they "are confident that these anecdotes will be shown to be untrue."

Pishevar said his leave of absences are due to "[pursuing] the prosecution" of a lawsuit he filed last month against "potential perpetrators of a smear campaign against me."

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Pishevar has sued Republican opposition research firm Definers Public Affairs for allegedly orchestrating a smear campaign "apparently designed to incite false, defamatory, and highly damaging chatter and gossip," according to the complaint. The lawsuit says Pishevar believes the Definers group was "retained by competitors or other business adversaries."

Definers Public Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a partner at the firm told Recode last month that "his claims are delusional, we have never engaged in any of the actions he outlined in this complaint, and Definers has never done any work with regards to Mr. Pishevar."

The defamatory accusations cited in the lawsuit include that Pishevar is an agent of the Russian government, and that he paid to settle a sexual assault claim in London. In November, Fast Company reported that Pishevar was arrested in London in 2017 for alleged sexual assault. But the publication has since edited the story to say that it learned the "police report described in this story has been proven false by the City of London police."

"In May 2017, Mr Pishevar was detained briefly in London in connection with a alleged sexual assault, an allegation he categorically denied," read a statement Fabiani sent to CNN Tech. "He fully cooperated with the police investigation which was exhaustive and detailed."

The investigation has since been dropped.

"It is because of false rumors like this that Mr Pishevar was compelled to bring his legal action against Definers to ensure that his reputation is not destroyed and that the truth will always prevail," the statement continued.

The complaint details a list of false and disparaging statements allegedly made to malign his character, including that he had an incident with a prostitute, was unable to raise funds, and is a close friend of Vladimir Putin's.

"I am confident I will be vindicated," said Pishevar in his statement on Tuesday. "[The decision to take leave was] proposed on my own accord ... It is not one I took lightly and it was a difficult decision that was guided by Sherpa Capital's abiding belief in service and putting others before ourselves."

A spokesperson for Sherpa Capital said the firm has not received a sexual harassment complaint.

"Nevertheless, we are launching an independent internal review to ensure our practices and operations continue to reflect the highest professional and ethical standards," the spokesperson said in a statement. "Our team remains focused on supporting our portfolio companies, investing in outstanding founders, and serving the interests of our Limited Partners."

A spokesperson for Hyperloop One did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Related: Tesla board member denies harassment claims

Pishevar, who is high-profile political donor, said he is seeing backlash from recipients of his money. Democratic senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker said they've donated Pishevar's combined $15,000 contributions to their campaign to victims of domestic violence and assault, campaign spokespeople confirmed to Bloomberg this week.

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