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BlackRock Whistleblower Claims Search Engine Cover-Up to Identify Chinese Investments

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One of the biggest asset management companies in the world, BlackRock, is embroiled in a legal dispute right now. Former vice president turned whistleblower Hamdan Azhar claims the company is covering up a search engine that is meant to identify illegal investments, especially in China. The case, which is seeking an astounding $20 million in damages, claims that Azhar was unlawfully fired by BlackRock for shutting down his project, Trend Spotter, which could track client conversations about possibly illicit investments, including those made in China.

Azhar’s tenure at BlackRock took a sharp turn in March 2022 when he was told to stop working on Trend Spotter and relocate his projects to Rightpoint. He blames nepotism for this decision, as his previous boss’s spouse was hired there. His complaints about what he saw to be “illegal self-dealing” in relation to a $2 million contract that Rightpoint was given were not taken seriously, and two months later he was fired. Moreover, Azhar claims that his new boss, Riaz Hakkim, disregarded his worries regarding Trend Spotter’s capacity to reveal illicit investments and declined to take the situation further.

Trend Spotter began as a project in March 2021, when Azhar started working on it during a business “hackathon.” BlackRock, a massive financial company with $10.5 trillion in assets under management as of March 2024, was quick to take notice of the technology.

In the wake of these accusations, the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, which is bipartisan, began an investigation into whether BlackRock and index provider MSCI helped investors invest in Chinese companies that the U.S. government had placed on a blacklist due to a variety of reasons, such as their involvement in human rights violations or ties to China’s military. The committee’s conclusions showed that Wall Street invested a significant $6.5 billion in 63 of these Chinese businesses in 2023 alone through index funds. BlackRock and MSCI both angrily denied any misconduct and insisted that they were in conformity with US regulations.

When Azhar started working at BlackRock in February 2020, he was the global marketing division’s chief of data science. In his complaint, which was submitted to a state court in New York, he is requesting $10 million in punitive and compensatory damages for breaking state labor regulations. The case also names Riaz Hakkim and Tiffany Perkins-Munn as defendants; both individuals have subsequently gone on to other financial companies, namely Fidelity Investments and JPMorgan Chase, respectively. At the time of publication, these businesses and Azhar’s legal counsel had not responded to requests for comment.

The case of Azhar v. BlackRock Inc et al is set to bring attention to the purported misbehavior within one of the most significant financial organizations in the world as the court battle plays out. In a time when accountability and openness are critical, how this case turns out might have a big impact on BlackRock and the larger financial sector.

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