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June 27, 2020

Arif Naqvi returned money to Bill Gates Foundation, others, court hears

Top Story

June 27, 2020

LONDON: Pakistani business tycoon Arif Naqvi’s Abraaj Group returned all money to Bill Gates Foundation and other American investors with interest, a judge has heard.

At the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where Arif Naqvi’s US extradition hearing is currently being held, a witness told the judge that the former chief executive officer (CEO) of Abraaj Group had ensured that all money in question by US investors in relation to the healthcare fund were paid back to those investors in full with interest by December 31, 2017.

This inquiry was started by the Bill Gates Foundation before becoming front page news and eventually leading to the collapse of the business. Passing statements of fact provided by cross examinations of by both Arif Naqvi’s barrister, Hugo Keith QC and the US government’sbarrister Mark Summers QC, witnesses have revealed two more very important pieces of information.

The court heard that Abraaj Private Equity Fund VI (APEF VI), the flagship fund which had raised a record $3 billion before Abraaj’s collapse, was never actually drawn down and no investor money ever invested or lost from that fund.

The court also heard separately that the US government’s entity named Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), who were also noted in the indictment, were not an investor but a debt provider which had been repaid in full, contrary to the indictment alleging otherwise.

Keith QC told the chief magistrate that Arif Naqvi continues to deny the allegations in the indictment that he personally misappropriated money for his benefit and wants to submit evidence to show his innocence but will respect the rules of the court and only speak to the bars against extradition, which included ‘forum’ -- that a trial should take place, if any, in the UK, and that US prisons violate Article 3 of human rights and that staff of these prisons are not allowed to talk about the terrible conditions. Witnesses were produced on both arguments.

During the trial that will last till the middle of next week, the lawyers for the US government did not produce any evidence to show that their prisons did not violate human rights but revealed to the court that if Arif Naqvi was extradited to the US, they would ask the US judge to grant him bail.

It was in itself an unprecedented offer, seemingly in response to Arif Naqvi’s lawyers’ advance submissions on appalling federal prison conditions in New York where he would be held, potentially for years before a trial in New York could even take place.

Naqvi’s lawyers have rejected the offer telling the court that they did not believe the offer had substance, given that the decision in the US could only be taken by the judge in the US case, namely Judge Kaplan, producing a witness who said that there was a real risk that a judge would not agree with any offer and detain him to either the Metropolitan Correctional Centre (MCC) or Metropolitan Detention Centre (MDC). Naqvi’s lawyer pointed out the words “present intention”, which meant there could always be a change of heart if he reached US soil. According to documents, more than 95 percent of US federal indictment cases end in plea bargains, with many forced to plead guilty and a tiny percentage of cases going to trial. Statistics were not submitted on how many of those that went to trial, the US government won.

Arif Naqvi is among several people charged by US prosecutors with being part of an alleged international scheme to defraud investors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Naqvi and others are facing 16 counts including fraud, money laundering and racketeering, known as RICO, created to target organised crime such as the mafia. The indictment comes to 291 years if convicted in the USA, where Naqvi doesn’t believe he will get a fair trial.

In one of his first public appearances since his arrest last year, Naqvi was bearded and looked notably tired. He has not interacted with media throughout.

Naqvi was born in Karachi in 1960 to a middle class background. He went on to graduate from the London School of Economics (LSE) and after stints in the UK and Saudi Arabia he used $50,000 in savings to build a large multinational operating and investment business called Cupola in Dubai. Following Cupola, he built Abraaj -- a private equity firm and the first of its kind in the world of emerging markets. Abraaj grew quickly through a track record of successfully investing and exiting businesses. It also had a dramatic impact on wherever it invested, enabling job creation and infrastructure growth at paces which outperformed the public sector.

Naqvi is also known for creating the Aman Foundation, a philanthropic not for profit organisation based in Karachi. The foundation is a social enterprise focused on health and education initiatives in Pakistan. Its flagship initiative, Aman Ambulance, is the first ambulatory vehicle network in Pakistan, providing round-the-clock emergency care in Sindh. AMAN has now been adopted into the public infrastructure of Pakistan.