BR Shetty vows again to overturn travel ban and return to UAE to 'clear my name'

NMC Health founder intends to rebuild his business empire and repay debts, he says

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Bavagauthu Raghuram Shetty, the founder of NMC Health and payments group Finablr, said he still intends to return to the UAE to clear his name despite a court in India upholding a ruling this week preventing him from leaving the country.

Mr Shetty, who was originally stopped from boarding a flight to Abu Dhabi from Bengaluru airport in November last year, had appealed against a ruling in February that banned him from leaving the country. However, the initial verdict was upheld. The businessman intends to appeal to the Supreme Court to have this overturned.

"My reaction is only to appeal again to the court to see that I come to the UAE, Abu Dhabi as soon as possible. My heart is there. I'm a son of the soil of Abu Dhabi and I'll come back, with the goodwill and the blessing of the royal family," he told The National.

“I want to clear my name. I have my family there. I don’t want to die with any liability of a bad name.”

Mr Shetty first arrived in the UAE in 1973 and set up NMC Health two years later, which later grew to become the largest privately-owned healthcare operator in the UAE.

The company floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2012 and at its peak in August 2018 was valued at £8.58 billion ($12.05bn). However, a report by short seller Muddy Waters in December 2019 claimed NMC Health had inflated the value of its assets and under-reported its debt.

A subsequent investigation found more than $4.4bn of previously undisclosed debt, leading the company to be placed into administration in April last year. Previously-unreported debt worth more than $1bn was discovered a month later at Finablr, a payments and foreign exchange group majority-owned by Mr Shetty.

Mr Shetty, who has been in India since February last year after returning to visit his brother, who died last March, is facing legal action in a number of jurisdictions from various lenders.

A Dubai International Financial Centre court placed a freezing order on his UAE assets last June following a petition by Credit Europe Bank (Dubai), which says he personally guaranteed an $8 million loan. Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, which was NMC Health's main lender, secured a worldwide freezing order on the assets of Mr Shetty, other principal shareholders and former directors of NMC Health at a secret hearing in London in December. A subsequent freezing order on UAE assets was awarded to the bank last month. In India, Bank of Baroda has sought to enforce personal guarantees on debts worth more than $250m.

Mr Shetty has persistently denied any wrongdoing. He blamed a group of former executives at his companies for creating bank accounts, raising loans, signing cheques and creating personal guarantees in his name, without his knowledge. He claims his signature was forged on many documents.

A report commissioned last year by Mr Shetty from Dubai-based Wise House Consultancy claimed former NMC Health chief executive Prasanth Manghat, and other executives, transferred millions of dirhams from company accounts into their own accounts. It also claimed some sums were transferred through an account opened at Bank of Baroda in his name, but without his knowledge, to accounts held by executives. The National was unable to reach Mr Manghat for comment.

Bank of Baroda has allegedly instigated the action that is preventing Mr Shetty from leaving India, he said. The businessman said he has requested the bank lifts it.

“We have questioned them … do you want money, or do you want Shetty? They said money, so I said, ‘OK, then why are you object[ing] to allowing me to go?’”.

Bank of Baroda did not immediately respond to a request from The National to comment.

He said his intention is to clear his name, rebuild his business empire and repay any debt that he owes.

“Whatever the money is, is not a matter for me. How I made this $1bn, I will make more now to repay their loans. I will not keep any Dh1 … provided it is my genuine signature,” he said.

“It is [over] 46 years I built the company. You think I can now thieve the company and go? Impossible.”