Dubai regulator upholds $135.6 million fine on Abraaj founder and former CEO

This is the largest fine ever imposed on an individual by the DFSA; The DFSA’s actions relate to Mr Naqvi’s knowing involvement in Abraaj’s misconduct

by

Muzaffar Rizvi

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Arif Naqvi disputed the findings and presented his case for review by the  Financial Markets Tribunal, an independent appeal tribunal.
Arif Naqvi disputed the findings and presented his case for review by the Financial Markets Tribunal, an independent appeal tribunal.

Published: Tue 3 Jan 2023, 3:34 PM

Last updated: Tue 3 Jan 2023, 3:35 PM

Dubai’s financial regulator on Tuesday said it upheld a $135.6 million fine on collapsed private equity firm Abraaj Group’s founder and former chief executive Arif Naqvi 'for his serious failings' in respect of the company.

In a statement, the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) said that the Financial Markets Tribunal (FMT) issued its decision on December 12, 2022 which upheld the DFSA’s findings and rejected Mr Naqvi’s FMT reference.


"The DFSA’s findings, as set out in its decision notice dated August 2021, are final," according to the statement.

Dubai-based Abraaj was the largest buyout fund in the Middle East and North Africa until it collapsed in 2018 after investors raised concerns about the management of its $1 billion healthcare fund.


The DFSA on January 27, 2022 imposed a ruling which banned Naqvi from the emirate’s financial centre and included a $135 million fine.

Naqvi, who was a regular attendee of the World Economic Forum in Davos, disputed the findings and presented his case for review by the FMT, an independent appeal tribunal. Naqvi could not immediately be reached for comment, according to the Reuters.

Ban, penalty will stay

The DFSA said at the time that the financial penalty will be stayed pending the decision of the FMT, while the ban on activities at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) will remain enforced.

Ian Johnston, chief executive of the DFSA, said Mr Naqvi was the face of the largest private equity firm in the region and the face of impact investing.

"Mr Naqvi was in a position of trust and influence and investors relied on him to ensure that the Abraaj Group’s affairs were managed effectively and responsibly. While Mr Naqvi preached about transparency and responsibility, he did not apply those principles in practice," he said.

"The DFSA’s action against him, which was upheld by the FMT, is important in recognising the nature, scale and seriousness of Mr Naqvi’s misconduct which ultimately led to the collapse of the Abraaj Group,” Johnston said.

The Abraaj Group was founded in 2002 and managed about $14 billion of assets at its peak. It was the Middle East’s biggest private equity firm with interests across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

What are the charges

In the decision notice against Mr Naqvi, the DFSA found that Mr Naqvi was knowingly involved in misleading and deceiving investors over the misuse of their funds by Abraaj Investment Management Limited (AIML), a Cayman Islands-registered firm not authorised by the DFSA, as he personally proposed, orchestrated, authorised, and executed actions that directly or indirectly misled or deceived the investors. In particular, Mr Naqvi:

• instructed the use of investor monies to fund the Abraaj Group’s working capital or other commitments;

• prioritised the distribution of Abraaj fund sale proceeds and update reports to “noise makers and those who will come back, with the latest being legacy investors and passive voices”;

• was central to the cover-up of an approximately $400 million shortfall across two Abraaj funds by temporarily borrowing monies for the purpose of producing bank balance confirmations and financial statements to mislead auditors and investors;

• approved and personally drafted false and misleading statements to investors to cover up the misuse of their funds;

• approved the change of an Abraaj fund’s financial year end to avoid disclosing an approximately $201 million shortfall, and agreed that the justification of aligning the Abraaj fund year end with the other Abraaj funds would be “selleable [sic] and compelling” to the limited partners of the fund; and

• personally arranged to borrow $350 million from an individual in an attempt to make the Abraaj Group appear solvent and appease the demands of investors.

The Abraaj Group was founded in 2002 and managed about $14 billion of assets at its peak.
The Abraaj Group was founded in 2002 and managed about $14 billion of assets at its peak.

Further, Mr Naqvi personally contributed to the liquidity problems at the Abraaj Group by taking interest free personal loans from it at a time when he knew that the Abraaj Group was incurring significant interest costs on borrowings in order to meet its major liquidity problems; his personal loans included monies taken from the Abraaj funds at a time when the funds did not have sufficient cash to make critical payments.

On one occasion Mr Naqvi acknowledged that he was aware that a $1 million transfer to one of his personal companies for investment in shares needed to be made from an Abraaj fund.

On another occasion, Mr Naqvi approved a $7.5 million transfer of an Abraaj fund’s sale proceeds, to a company wholly owned by him, in order to fund his personal expenses.

Arif Naqvi was a regular attendee of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Arif Naqvi was a regular attendee of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Mr Naqvi was also knowingly and directly involved in AIML carrying out unauthorised financial service activities in or from the DIFC over a prolonged period of almost 11 years, through, among other things, his role as the head of the Abraaj Group’s Global Investment Committee and his actions in managing the Abraaj funds.

Overall, and as set out in the FMT’s decision, Mr Naqvi “was centrally involved in a sustained course of unauthorised Financial Service activities and misleading and deceptive conduct by AIML”.

The FMT also considered that the $135 million “penalty is unusually high but the remuneration that Mr Naqvi received was high amidst conduct that was exceptionally serious and the cause of what appears to have been unprecedented harm to the entire community of the DIFC".

— With inputs from Reuters



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