Abraaj chief Arif Naqvi suffers major blow in fight against US extradition

London magistrate rules against the businessman as he tries to avoid trial on charges of fraud in US

Arif Naqvi, chief executive officer of Abraaj Capital Ltd., pauses 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 British magistrate has ruled that former Abraaj Group chief Arif Naqvi should be extradited to the United States to face a trial for fraud and money laundering.

Following the collapse of the private equity giant, Mr Naqvi, 60, was accused of misappropriating funds but had fought extradition to the US where he could face up to 30 years in prison if found guilty.

Abraaj was the largest buyout fund in the Middle East until it collapsed in the middle of 2018 after investors raised concerns about the management of its $1 billion healthcare fund. By the time of its collapse in 2018, Abraaj owed creditors more than $1bn.

The businessman denied any wrongdoing and claimed that his worsening mental and physical health meant he should not be kept in a US jail before a trial.

But a court ruling on Thursday found that prison healthcare was sufficiently good and that it was more likely that he would be given bail.

"He is frightened of the prospect of extradition and spending time in a US prison," said chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot. "I accepted the expert's view that there is a real risk that he will attempt to commit suicide."

Despite Mr Naqvi's physical and mental problems, she found that prison authorities "would treat and care for him appropriately".

Prosecutors claim he was at the heart of a conspiracy to take money from funds and falsify financial records to hide the parlous position of his group of businesses.

They claim that some $250 million went for the benefit of Mr Naqvi's family and other sums were used to bribe a politician in Pakistan to obtain approval for the sale of Abraaj’s stake in an electrical energy utility company.

Mr Naqvi faces 16 counts of fraud and related money laundering between 2014 - when Abraaj had a cashflow problem - and 2018. He is accused of being the “leader of a criminal enterprise that corrupted Abraaj”.

Mr Naqvi was arrested in April 2019 at London’s Heathrow Airport as he made his way from Islamabad to Dubai.

He had to post a record £15 million bail during the extradition case and remained at his luxury London apartment during most of the case. He also owns properties in Pakistan, St Kitts and France.

He argued that any trial should be held in the UK, which he claimed as the centre of Abraaj operations, but Ms Arbuthnot ruled against him.

She said the bulk of the investors were in the US and most of the alleged misconduct happened outside the UK.

“There is no doubt that the US is where most of the loss and harm has resulted from the relevant activity,” Ms Arbuthnot said in her ruling.

The ruling will now be passed to Home Secretary Priti Patel who will decide if Mr Naqvi is to be extradited. He can appeal against the decision, which could extend his stay in the UK for months.

Abraaj claimed to manage almost $14bn of assets at its peak, and was one of the world’s most active emerging market investors with interests across Africa, Asia, Latin America, Turkey and the Middle East.

But alleged frauds came to light after an anonymous email was sent to some investors in September 2017, including to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The investigation found that the firm's main revenues had not covered its operating costs for years.

In a 2019 indictment, the former Dubai-based businessman and five other men were accused of a raft of charges including fraud, money laundering and theft.

The other men included former managing partner Sivendran Vettivetpillai who was also arrested in the UK. He has pleaded guilty and will give evidence against Mr Naqvi in the US.

Dubai’s financial regulator has also fined Abraaj $315m for deceiving investors and misappropriating their funds.