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Billionaire Telegram CEO says he was attacked in SF after 2014 Jack Dorsey meeting

A man in a black shirt speaks at a podium, gesturing mid-speech with a projected blue background.
Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov said an attempted mugging in San Francisco made him reconsider choosing the city for a headquarters location for his company. | Source: Manuel Blondeau/AOP.Press/Corbis via Getty Images

The chief executive of a $30 billion social media company was on the verge of relocating his company to downtown San Francisco a decade ago when an attempted mugging changed his mind, he said.

Pavel Durov, the Russian-born billionaire CEO of encrypted messaging and social media site Telegram steered away from locating his company in the city because he was attacked on the streets after visiting Twitter’s office, he said in an April 16 interview with conservative media commentator Tucker Carlson.   

Durov went on a world tour to find a headquarters for his new company focused on encrypted messaging after leaving Russia in 2014—where he and his brother Nikolai founded the social media site VK—under pressure from the government to limit political organizing on the platform.

“San Francisco we really thought it would be the place for us to be in because all the tech companies are there or around,” he said.

But Durov said a couple of things happened that made him think twice. 

After visiting Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey at the company’s office in the Mid-Market neighborhood around 8 p.m. that night to walk to his hotel, Durov said he was confronted on the street by three men who tried to steal his phone.

“(They) tried to grab my phone from my hands as I was tweeting that I had just met the founder of Twitter,” Durvo said. “They probably didn’t expect resistance, so I snatched my phone back. There was a short fight with the guys and a little bit of blood involved, but I managed to run away.

“They probably don’t mug a lot of Russians. They might have been surprised,” Carlson replied, never shy to bash his hometown.   

“It was a shock to me because I’ve traveled a lot and that was the first place I got attacked,” Durov said. 

Telegram and Dorsey did not respond to a request for comment on the alleged incident.

But Durov said he ultimately decided against basing his company in the United States because of the attention he got from government security agencies.

Durov said the last time he was in the U.S., a government agency attempted to recruit an engineer he brought along to the country behind his back. 

“They were trying to persuade him to use certain open-source tools that he would then integrate into Telegram’s code that in my understanding would serve as backdoors,” Durov said. 

Durov said he decided against cities like Berlin, London and Singapore because “the bureaucratic hurdles were just too difficult to overcome.”

“I was bringing the best-in-class programmers in the world to these places, and I was trying to hire them from a local company and the responses I got in places like Germany for example is that you can’t hire people from outside the European Union,” Durov said.

Eventually, Durov chose to base his company in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, largely because he said the local government has never interfered with his company’s operations for political reasons. Telegram operates under a complex corporate structure that it claims helps it ignore private data requests from governments. 

“It’s a neutral country. It’s a small country that wants to be friends with everybody and is not aligned geopolitically with any of the big superpowers,” Durov said. “It’s the best place for a neutral platform like ours to be in if we want to make sure we can defend our users’ privacy and freedom of speech.”