Former Abraaj CEO Denied Bail After Being Called Flight Risk


(Bloomberg) -- Arif Naqvi, the founder of buyout fund Abraaj Group, was denied bail by a London judge Friday after prosecutors said he may flee to Pakistan rather than face U.S. fraud charges.

Judge Emma Arbuthnot denied Naqvi’s request after prosecutors said the 58-year-old wrote down the phone number of the Pakistani president when he was arrested earlier this month. Naqvi appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court for the latest stage of his extradition battle following his arrest this month on American charges of defrauding investors.

"I’m concerned to see he had the president’s number on him," Arbuthnot said because it was a sign he had friends in high places in Pakistan. "If he were to be granted bail, I’d be extremely concerned he would leave the country.”

The 58-year-old is one of several Abraaj officials caught up in a U.S. probe of what was the Middle East’s biggest private equity fund. Naqvi is charged with inflating the value of the Dubai-based firm’s holdings and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars. He denies inflating valuations and says the idea he took money out for his own personal benefit is "ludicrous," his lawyer Hugo Keith said in court Friday.

President’s Number

The phone number of Arif Alvi was one of seven numbers Naqvi scribbled out during his arrest, prosecutor Rachel Kapila said at the hearing. When he was arrested at London’s Heathrow airport, Naqvi had an “Interpol passport,” and asked police, “is there not meant to be a red notice?” Kapila said.

He had the passport -- alongside two Pakistan passports and one from Saint Kitts and Nevis -- as an honorary trustee of the Interpol Foundation, Keith said.

“There is a strong concern he will flee to Pakistan” if granted bail, and he has been known to use a private jet, which may provide the means to do so, Kapila said.

The U.S. doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Pakistan, she said. If he did flee to the country, it would be "extremely difficult to get him back." Abraaj is headquartered in Dubai but has a satellite office in Manhattan, Kapila said.

Multi-Million Dollar Fraud

Naqvi “is alleged to have played the leading role in a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud investors,” she said, and if extradited and convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 45 years.

“The exact scope of his personal benefit is still being determined," Kapila said, though so far "at least millions" have been identified as having been diverted to Naqvi, either to his accounts or those of his family members and associates.

Naqvi has known about the “high likelihood” of an American indictment for months, yet "he has continued to reside in London" without trying to flee, Keith said in court Friday as he applied for bail. He offered a 2 million-pound ($2.6 million) security for bail.

"The idea he took money out for his personal benefit is ludicrous," Keith said. "The personal benefit allegation is wrong." Naqvi sold his jet in 2016, and doesn’t have access to a private plane, he said.

The next hearing is set for May 24.

Abraaj collapsed last year in the world’s biggest private-equity insolvency. Founded in 2002, it grew to become one of the world’s most influential emerging-market investors, with stakes in health care, clean energy, lending and real estate across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Turkey.

Naqvi surrendered control in 2018. Abraaj, which managed almost $14 billion, was forced into liquidation in June after a group of investors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, commissioned an audit to investigate the alleged mismanagement of money in its health-care fund.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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