Tech Conference Defends Inviting Convicted Woman-Beater to Speak

Gurbaksh Chahal has been sentenced to prison and is being sued for alleged racism and sexism. Yet a cryptocurrency confab wanted to hear him out.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

A tech conference is defending its decision to invite a convicted woman-beater to speak earlier this week.

On Tuesday, Silicon Valley executive Gurbaksh Chahal spoke at CoinAgenda, a Las Vegas conference on cryptocurrencies. Chahal was caught on video hitting and kicking his girlfriend 117 times and smothering her with a pillow in the span of 30 minutes in 2013. Chahal pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and later violated his probation by beating a different woman. (He faces a year in prison, pending an appeal.) He is also facing at least for lawsuits from former employees who accuse him of racism, sexism, and violent threats.

CoinAgenda’s founder Michael Terpin said that’s no reason to exclude Chahal from speaking on a panel at the conference.

“I do not support domestic violence,” Terpin tweeted Wednesday. “I also don’t believe in lifetime bans on a businessman speaking about his business.”

Asked whether any crime was bad enough to merit a lifetime speaking ban, Terpin told The Daily Beast yes but declined to specify which crimes were adequately heinous.

“Certainly there’s things I would not have somebody speak after,” Terpin said. “I’m not sure what that would be right now, but I would say that -- yeah, I don’t want to go in and say specific things. I suppose, you know -- like I said, I put my position in there. I don’t really have any further comments.”

Terpin’s tweets came after members of the tech community took to Twitter to protest Chahal being listed as one of the conference’s “keynote” speakers: a title Terpin claimed had been taken out of context.

“We’re not talking hundreds of tweets, I think under a dozen, most of them people who are not even Bitcoin people or blockchain people,” Terpin told The Daily Beast in a phone conversation. (Twitter users authored significantly more than a dozen tweets complaining about Chahal’s involvement.) “There were I think two people who had anything to do with the blockchain community. I guess the question, which I said in tweet six, is I don’t support domestic violence, but I also don’t believe people should have a lifetime ban from speaking.”

Terpin said Chahal had approached him about speaking at the conference.

“I just thought he was doing interesting things in the ad community,” Terpin said. “He created several billion-dollar companies in that community, and he was embracing blockchain.”

Chahal’s companies have sold for millions, not billions of dollars. A Forbes investigation of Chahal’s cryptocurrency LydianCoin found potential legal troubles in the cryptocurrency’s structure. Cryptocurrency expert Peter Van Valkenburgh told Forbes he would “be extremely skeptical about whether there’s any technology here or just an attempt to raise a lot of money off the hype of the [cryptocurrency] bubble.”

Chahal’s own legal woes are well-known. The Daily Beast has previously reported on open lawsuits from three former employees, who accuse Chahal of assaulting women, discriminating against female employees, using the n-word frequently, stealing another company’s intellectual property, pushing drugs in the office, and threatening physical violence against employees. One of the employees is also suing Chahal for defamation in a separate filing.

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Even reality star Paris Hilton, who promoted LydianCoin after its launch, deleted all her social media posts following a Daily Beast report on Chahal’s legal woes. “Paris is not involved with Lydian Coin,” a spokesperson told The Daily Beast in September.

Terpin downplayed the allegations and convictions against Chahal.

“The thing that was most quoted was ‘the video, the video,’” Terpin said of Twitter users complaining about the video in which Chahal allegedly beat his girlfriend 117 times. “I looked online to find it, and the video was simply referred to as a police video. If there was an actual video that I had seen, I would not have had him. He had told me that the video was the police’s position, and he denies a lot of the allegations.”

But at least one conference speaker has withdrawn over the controversy.

“I just informed coinagenda organizers I can’t join my scheduled panel this afternoon,” Token Report co-founder Galen Moore tweeted Wednesday. “Thanks @neha for calling me out,” he added in reference to cryptocurrency Neha Narula who spoke against Chahal’s involvement in the conference.

Terpin said the backlash would have been less muted if he had invited a famous rapper to the conference, rather than Chahal.

“I don’t think I would have had the same controversy if Snoop Dogg was there. There’s a ton of people who have been on probation,” Terpin said, adding that he’d previously hosted Bitcoin insiders Charlie Shrem and Roger Ver on panels.

Shrem served time for unlicensed Bitcoin transactions, and Ver served time for selling fireworks. Chahal, meanwhile, has pleaded guilty to beating a woman and is attempting to avoid jail time for a second beating.

“Had I known that the day after, people who had nothing to do with the conference would get upset about it, I probably wouldn’t have invited him,” Terpin said.