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Marc Lasry, the billionaire investor, has stepped down as chair of Ozy Media after only three weeks in the role, deepening the crisis at the digital media company.
The online media business has come under fire after a report in The New York Times questioned its audience figures and revealed that one of its founders had impersonated a YouTube executive on a conference call with Goldman Sachs during a fundraising process. Ozy appointed law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to review its business practices this week.
Lasry, who co-founded the hedge fund Avenue Capital and is the co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, invested in Ozy and joined the board following a $35m funding round in 2019, the company said at the time.
He was appointed Ozy’s chair earlier this month, having said that he hoped to grow its investor base and lead a new phase of growth for the eight-year-old company.
But in a statement on Thursday, Lasry said: “I believe that going forward Ozy requires experience in areas like crisis management and investigations, where I do not have particular expertise. For that reason, I have stepped down from the company’s board. I remain an investor in the company and wish it the best going forward.”
Lasry’s exit follows the resignation of former BBC journalist Katty Kay, one of its star hires, who said the allegations made by The New York Times were “serious and deeply troubling”.
Ozy’s other investors include the German publisher Axel Springer, SuRo Capital and Emerson Collective, the organisation led by Laurene Powell Jobs. The company has raised more than $80m since its founding, according to PitchBook data.
On Tuesday the venture firm SV Angel surrendered its shares in the company after having invested in a seed round in 2012, said one person briefed on the decision. SV Angel and its founder Ron Conway declined to comment.
The New York Times reported this week that Samir Rao, co-founder of the company and its chief operating officer, had impersonated a YouTube executive on a conference call with Goldman Sachs, which was a potential investor.
Ozy has confirmed the incident occurred, saying it was the result of a mental health episode. The board asked Rao to take a leave of absence pending the result of the law firm’s investigation.
Carlos Watson, chief executive, co-founder and the public face of Ozy, earlier this week released a statement which included a quote from Lasry confirming that the board had been made aware of the Goldman Sachs call and supported the way it was handled. “The incident was an unfortunate one-time event,” Lasry said in the memo.
Lasry is best known as co-owner of the Bucks basketball franchise, which he bought with the private equity investor Wes Edens in 2014. This year the Bucks won their first NBA championship in half a century, led by two-time league most valuable player Giannis Antetokounmpo.