Cosgrave hits back at bullying claims aimed at ‘damaging’ him

Web Summit founder says he gave ‘vanity’ co-founder titles to ex-partners ‘as a soother’

Tech conference organiser Paddy Cosgrave has hit back at bullying claims made by former business partner Daire Hickey saying there were aimed at damaging him in the tech community.

The Web Summit founder has claimed in a new court filing in the legal action taken by his former friend that Mr Hickey used Web Summit’s databases to access the emails and mobile numbers of some of the world’s leading tech entrepreneurs for “secret” consultancy work.

Mr Cosgrave has also rejected claims that he is "motivated by vendettas" against people such as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

In a new replying affidavit, Mr Cosgrave has alleged that Mr Hickey offered to sell access to Web Summit’s databases to other event operators for personal profit without his knowledge.

He claimed that the details included contacts for "A-list" clients such as Tesla chief Elon Musk, Brian Chesky of AirBnB, Google founder Sergey Brin and Netflix chief Reed Hastings.

Unauthorised access

He has also alleged that Mr Hickey provided his private business clients with unauthorised access to Web Summit events, including high-level political gatherings.

Mr Cosgrave claims that this jeopardised Web Summit's contract with the government of Portugal, where the high-profile tech conference is held. He has alleged that Mr Hickey's granting access to its databases "both undermines and seriously damages Web Summit."

A spokesman for Mr Hickey said he “wholly refutes these baseless allegations” and called Mr Cosgrave’s affidavit “a work of fiction designed to distract rather than engage with the case”.

“Mr Hickey will not be deterred and remains focused on resolving the case through the courts,” he said.

The affidavit was submitted in Mr Hickey's shareholder oppression legal action taken through his company, Lazvisax, a 7 per cent shareholder in Web Summit, against the event's holding company, Manders Terrace, Mr Cosgrave's firm Proto Roto and Mr Cosgrave himself.

Mr Cosgrave disputes that Mr Hickey and former fellow director David Kelly, another shareholder, were known or publicly acknowledged as "co-founders" of Web Summit.

He has described these as “vanity titles” that he agreed to give them “as a soother” in 2012, three years after he started the business. He claims Mr Hickey is attempting to “plump up” his role at the start of Web Summit “in a way that is simply not reflective of reality”.

Mr Kelly and Mr Cosgrave, also former friends, are embroiled in separate legal actions.

Mr Cosgrave claims that there was no effort to connect allegations of bullying and harassment made against him to claims that Mr Hickey and Mr Kelly had been oppressed as shareholders.

He rejected a claim by Mr Hickey that six employees left Web Summit in 2015 because they could no longer cope with working for Mr Cosgrave as “unsubstantiated” and “unevidenced.”

Mr Cosgrave dismissed another claim that he was responsible for a Web Summit employee fainting due to a panic attack after he publicly chastised her. He denied this, saying that he had sent a “strong” message at a highly pressurised event nine hours before she fainted.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent

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