The startling collapse of Abraaj Group, the once-mighty Middle Eastern private equity firm, continues to reverberate
The startling collapse of Abraaj Group, the once-mighty Middle Eastern private equity firm, continues to reverberate.
Regulators in Dubai, where the dealmaker is based, have imposed a record fine, and Abraaj founder Arif Naqvi and a clutch of senior executives face legal charges in the US. The scandal, meanwhile, has all but frozen fundraising by other Dubai-based buyout companies.
The Dubai Financial Services Authority fined two Abraaj Group companies a combined $315 million for deceiving investors and misappropriating funds.
“Misconduct and deceit were pervasive and persistent,” and management "rode roughshod” over its compliance function, the authority said. Mustafa Abdel-Wadood, a former Abraaj managing partner, admitted in a court in June that he lied to investors in an attempt to hide losses and raise more money.
He’s one of six former Abraaj executives facing racketeering and securities-fraud charges after an investigation by New York prosecutors. The others are Chief Financial Officer Ashish Dave and managing directors Sivendran Vettivetpillai, Rafique Lakhani and Waqar Siddique.
He’s effectively under house arrest, fighting extradition to the U.S. in the same New York case that has ensnared his former colleagues. He was granted conditional bail in the UK on May 3 but had to surrender his travel documents, wear an electronic tag and remain in his London home.
He’s charged with inflating the value of Abraaj’s holdings and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars. Naqvi maintains his innocence and expects to be cleared of any charges, his spokesman has said.
Problems began in February 2018 with allegations that money in Abraaj’s health fund had been misused. Naqvi and Abraaj denied wrongdoing and blamed unforeseen political and regulatory hurdles for a delay in deploying the money.
After Abraaj defaulted on loans, Kuwait’s Public Institution for Social Security and a fund linked to Sharjah-based Crescent Group’s Hamid Jafar moved to force the company into a court-supervised restructuring. Abraaj Investment Management Ltd., which managed the private equity funds, and its parent, Abraaj Holdings Ltd, filed for provisional liquidation in the Cayman Islands, where they’re registered.
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, helping to oversee Abraaj’s restructuring, said the group’s main revenues hadn’t covered its operating costs for years. Abraaj had borrowed to fill the gaps and fund asset purchases and wound up owing creditors more than $1 billion.
While liquidators seek to settle the company’s debt, some investors are finding comfort as new managers take control of a few Abraaj funds. In July, London-based Actis LLP took over management of the $1.6 billion Abraaj Private Equity Fund IV and a $990 million fund that invests in Africa.
Colony Capital Inc. acquired Abraaj’s Latin American operations in April, and US-based TPG took over its $1 billion health fund in June. PwC and Deloitte LLP, appointed by a Cayman court to oversee the restructuring, are evaluating bids from companies to operate other funds.
Franklin Templeton Investments and Turkey’s Actera Group were in talks earlier this year to buy funds managed by Abraaj’s Turkish unit. Brookfield Asset Management Inc. was also keen to acquire the Turkey funds.
An investment firm founded by former UBS Group AG banker Yassine Bouhara bid to buy some of Abraaj’s other funds, while Abu Dhabi Financial Group, Kuwaiti logistics firm Agility and Centerbridge Partners have also expressed interest.
Abraaj’s downfall eroded investor confidence in private equity companies in emerging markets. Abraaj was one of the largest such investors, with $13.6 billion in assets under management.
Since it began unravelling, private equity firms based in the six Arab nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council have raised almost no money. That’s in spite of strong performances almost everywhere else, according to Seattle-based data provider PitchBook and London-based Preqin.