Founders of AI company NtechLab say they resigned over projects in Russia

Reuters | March 30, 2023

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By Lena Masri

(Reuters) -The founders of artificial intelligence company NtechLab said they resigned over disagreements with the company’s management and investors about projects in Russia.

One of the founders left Russia in December 2021 while the other left in March 2022, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they said.

The two founders’ comments came after Reuters published a special report on Tuesday about how Russian law enforcement officials use facial recognition to identify and detain protesters and opposition activists. NtechLab’s FindFace is one of the algorithms that powers Moscow’s facial recognition system.

The Russian founders, Artem Kukharenko and Alexander Kabakov, said the main disagreement was that they wanted NtechLab to end all work in Russia and relocate all Russia-based employees, while the company’s management wanted to continue operating in Russia.

“Most shareholders supported management, so we had no other option than to resign from the company,” Kukharenko told Reuters.

The company said decisions were taken unanimously by the board.

“Not one of the shareholders used their veto right, including Artem and Alexander,” NtechLab spokesperson Alexander Tomas told Reuters.

Kukharenko and Kabakov said the board never voted about the question of whether the company should end work in Russia.

“There were no formal resolutions about stopping work in Russia on the board of directors, so we couldn’t vote for it,” said Kukharenko.

He said he wrote his letter of resignation on Feb. 25, 2022, and left Russia the next day. He had transferred all his work to colleagues by the end of March but remained formally employed by NtechLab until July, he added. 

The founders said they started discussions about ending all projects in Russia after opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned in August 2020.

“It became clear that the country is moving towards a disaster, although no one could have imagined that the country would start a war,” said Kukharenko, who was head of research at NtechLab prior to his resignation.

Kukharenko and Kabakov declined to provide more details about the disagreement or why they wanted to end NtechLab’s work in Russia.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they said they both signed an anti-war petition.

(Reporting by Lena Masri; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Jonathan Oatis)


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