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Wednesday August 17, 2022

The ‘untold story’ behind the fall of Arif Naqvi

June 12, 2022
Abraaj Group founder Arif Naqvi. — AFP/file
Abraaj Group founder Arif Naqvi. — AFP/file

LONDON: Senior executives at the now-defunct Abraaj group took huge amounts of money home but lied about the role of Arif Naqvi in the collapse of the multi-billion dollars equity entity and cut deals with the US government to save their skins and get lenient sentences while throwing the Pakistani national under the bus, a major new investigation has stated, based on an interview with Arif Naqvi.

The New Zealand Telegraph and Russian TV have published an article which sets out the role of Mustafa Abdel-Wadood, Abraaj’s former managing partner, and ex-Abraaj managing partner Sev Vettivetpillai. Both have both entered into guilty pleas with the US authorities to get lenient jail sentences and lesser fines.

This is for the first time that Arif Naqvi has given an interview to any publication. “The untold story behind the fall of the Middle East’s largest private equity company” looks into how only Arif Naqvi has been made to look like a bad person by his own former Abraaj lieutenants, the US government and the Western press.

The interview and financial affairs writer Lubna Hamdan communicated with Arif Naqvi for two years for her article and met him in London before publishing the article.

The interview looks at the remarkable life of a Pakistani man who is credited with turning Abraaj, which he set up in 2002, into one of the world’s top 20 private equity companies, and the leading investor in growth markets, managing a staggering $14 billion in assets across Africa, Asia, Latin America, Turkey and the Middle East, with investments in healthcare, clean energy, transportation, education and real estate, and then going on to convince the likes of Bill Gates, Barack Obama and John Kerry to recognise the potential of emerging markets.

Sixteen years later, says the article, the same group collapsed on suspicion of defrauding US investors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and now its mercurial poster boy is facing extradition to the US, where he would stand trial for 16 counts of fraud and money laundering. The US has accused Arif Naqvi of misleading investors and auditors by covering up a $400 million shortfall across two funds by temporarily borrowing money to produce financial statements; changing financial statements to avoid disclosing a $200 million shortfall, and borrowing $350 million for Abraaj from an individual Abraaj shareholder and friend to make the company appear solvent.

Arif Naqvi denies all charges and has been fighting extradition to the US but the case has taken a heavy toll on him. “Naqvi doesn’t appear to be loving life as much these days. There’s a certain air of despair about him.”

The writer says: “Indeed, I had travelled to London to meet the man accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars. But I leave having met a man who’s had something of his own stolen: his life story.”

The article points out that Arif Naqvi’s fall became a business opportunity for some publications who ran campaigns against him, lied about him, exaggerated and told fiction while making Naqvi look like an even person and the biggest beneficiaries of Abraaj as some kind of billionaire saints who were victims of Naqvi’s schemes.

The article mentions headlines such as “A financial fairytale: how one man fooled the global elite,” The Guardian; “He Convinced the Elite He Invested for Good. Then the Money Vanished,” Wall Street Journal; “How a Pakistani con man ‘robbed’ $100 million from Bill Gates,” New York Post; and a book by two Wall Street reporters focused on Naqvi as “The Key Man” solely responsible for the collapse while a former Abraaj accountant “slept with a knife” by his bed, while another IT executive “checked for bombs” under his car as “The two British men had to tread carefully and there were moments when they feared for their lives. Arif remained a powerful man.”

The interview says, “The Key Man” was so biased that it said Mustafa Abdel-Wadood, Abraaj’s former managing partner, who was arrested in New York and pleaded guilty to seven counts of an indictment against him, including extortion and securities fraud charges, wanted to leave the company but Naqvi allegedly pressured him to stay, “through a strange combination of bullying and kindness” but the masses are not aware that Abdel-Wadood himself was a well-connected man, whose former boss Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris was guarantor for his $10 million bail bond, according to the Wall Street Journal.

It says, “Mustafa Abdel-Wadood lived in the same luxurious gated community in Emirates Hills in Dubai where Naqvi lived and Wadood held huge parties at his villa and at his private yacht. And yet, his attorney claimed in court, “This is a tragic story of a good man who stayed at Abraaj to rectify the madness that Arif Naqvi created and along the way participated in the wrongful conduct that he has acknowledged today”.

The article explores how Abdel-Wadood, who could be sentenced to 125 years, had cooperated with US authorities for a lighter sentence in return for helping to build a case against Naqvi by lying that he had little role in the way Abraak operated and the way business was conducted. The article says, “Wadood told the US authorities he was a helpless executive in Abraaj but the facts state he ran the show of Abraaj, with Abraaj managing partner Sivendran Vettivetpillai, as much Naqvi did.

London-based ex-Abraaj managing partner Sev Vettivetpillai, who faces nine counts of criminal activities and 115 years in jail and who changed his not-guilty plea to a guilty to get less jail time through a bargain with the US authorities against Naqvi, was treated as a victim of Naqvi and the Wall Street publication wrote about him that “he felt the sting of his conscience even as he conspired with Arif” while ignoring the fact that he was one of the main pillars in Abraaj and was involved in each and everything that happened at Abraaj.

The article quoted a former acquaintance of Vettivetpillai as saying that he was “happy just being the bookkeeper, as long as he got to enjoy the rewards of the job”. Sev Vettivetpillai is on bail in London and barred from doing any kind of financial dealings.

The article says that the overwhelming Western media describes Naqvi as the mastermind behind a “global criminal conspiracy” under his leadership but ignores the role of key people like Sev Vettivetpillai and Wadood to remain focused on the Pakistani national.

The article lists several successes of Arif Naqvi which were unprecedented in scale, going on to give thousands of jobs and creating wealth and opportunities like nobody else could do.

The article noted how America’s leading companies put in bids for Abraaj buying after its collapse including Thomas Barrack’s Colony Capital and Stephen Feinberg’s Cerberus Capital Management which offered $125 million to buy Abraaj.

Even Obama’s former commerce secretary Penny Pritzker entered a bid to buy Abraaj through a group.

The article said: “It begs the question, why would the ex-commerce secretary of the former US president be interested in a Middle East company like Abraaj? Unless Naqvi had built something so valuable that executives at the highest levels of the US government had their eyes on, even after its collapse.”

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