Abraaj’s Arif Naqvi to be released on bail as US government says it hasn’t found all his wealth

Relationship with cricketing legend turned prime minister Imran Khan raised in British court

Arif Naqvi, chief executive officer of Abraaj Capital Ltd., speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K., on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. Brent crude fell to a 12-year low in London, briefly dipping below $28 a barrel, after the lifting of international sanctions on Iran paved the way for increased supply amid a global glut. Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Arif Naqvi
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A high court judge in Britain on Friday approved terms to free the Abraaj founder Arif Naqvi on £15 million bail while he fights extradition to the United States to face fraud charges.

The US government lodged an appeal on Wednesday after a lower court granted Mr Naqvi, 58, bail on 24-hour curfew on condition that he remain at his west London home and wear an electronic tag.

The Pakistani national is accused of conspiracy and fraud over the collapse of his Dubai-based private equity company the Abraaj Group. If found guilty, the maximum sentence he could serve is 45 years imprisonment. Mr Naqvi denies any wrongdoing.

Representing the American prosecutor, Rachel Kapila QC argued that Mr Naqvi had a “strong incentive” to flee to Pakistan if he was released on bail because of the lengthy custodial sentence he would face if he was convicted in the US.

She added that Mr Naqvi has influential connections in Pakistan including Prime Minister Imran Khan, the former international cricket captain. The prosecution claimed when Mr Naqvi was arrested at Heathrow Airport last month, one of the seven phone numbers he offered to the authorities to notify about his arrest was Mr Khan’s.

“Upon arrest, he provided the police with a number of telephone numbers to contact if necessary,” the appeal said. “One of those numbers was the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, who was described during the bail application on 1 May 2019 as a “very old friend” of the Respondent, with whom he “goes back a long way.

The documents also revealed that US investigators were still attempting to ascertain the extent of Mr Naqvi’s personal fortune.

“The Respondent denies having access to any substantial liquid assets,” according to the paperwork.

“The Appellant disputes this. Source information from the US indicates that the Respondent still has hundreds of millions in assets, which he maintains though various corporate entities and personal trusts. The entities in which Naqvi maintains his assets are said to be based in various jurisdictions that have strong banking secrecy laws, and some of the entities maintaining funds are operated by the Respondent’s family members.”

Hugo Keith QC, Mr Naqvi’s lawyer said that flight fears were unsubstantiated. “Is the Prime Minister of Pakistan going to send a jet for him?” Mr Keith said. “He’s not going to enable flight.”

epa07136308 Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan attends talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 02 November 2018.  EPA/THOMAS PETER / POOL
Pakistan's prime minister Imran Khan. EPA

Prosecutors had last week said the phone number was that of Pakistan’s president, rather than its prime minister.

Judge Michael Supperstone dismissed the appeal because he was “not persuaded” that Mr Naqvi would fail to surrender himself to the authorities.

He maintained the same bail conditions imposed by the lower court – the £15m bond, electronic tag, 24-hour curfew and surrender of his travel documents - with the addition of three sureties amounting to £650,000.

Judge Supperstone agreed to release Mr Naqvi on validation of the sureties, provided by three of the businessman’s associates.

The 58-year-old is one of three former Abraaj executives to be detained over the insolvency of the private equity firm, which once managed almost $14 billion in funds. The company was forced into liquidation in 2018 after a group of investors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, commissioned an audit into alleged mismanagement of money in Abraaj’s troubled healthcare fund.

Earlier this week former Abraaj Group managing partner Mustafa Abdel-Wadood was granted bail in New York on condition of a $10m bond. Mr Abdel-Wadood had been detained last month while visiting the US to look at colleges with his son.

A third Abraaj executive, former director Sivendran Vettivetpillai is also facing extradition to the US following his arrest in London on April 19. Last month, he was granted a $1.3m bail until June 12 but must remain under curfew at an unknown private residence.

Among those providing Mr Naqvi’s sureties were Javed Ahmed, the former chief executive officer of Tate & Lyle Plc, who was said to be “willing to stand £300,000”.