NMC Health founder BR Shetty breaks his silence: I intend to return to the UAE

Exclusive: The billionaire founder of embattled NMC Health tells 'The National' he flew to India in early February for personal reasons

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BR Shetty, the founder of NMC Health, which was placed into administration by a UK court last week and faces criminal charges, said he flew to India in early February for personal reasons.

Mr Shetty told The National when reached by phone on Friday that he left the UAE to Mangalore on February 7 to be with his brother, who had cancer and died earlier this month aged 82.

“He was sick. That’s why I came in February and he was sick for two months and he died maybe a fortnight back,” Mr Shetty said.

“Once the coronavirus restrictions are over and flights are open, I’ll come” back to the UAE, he said. He is with his wife, while the rest of his family remains in Abu Dhabi, he added.

Reports had suggested Mr Shetty fled to India as legal and operational challenges mounted in relation to his companies NMC Health and Finablr, both listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Mr Shetty said he has “kept quiet” about the allegations he and his companies are facing, and “didn’t want to react, because I don’t know the facts, I don’t know what happened”.

In a statement to The National, Mr Shetty said: "Given my own legal and forensic investigations are now starting to produce some initial findings, and in consideration of some of the misleading and false allegations that have made against me, I will be looking to respond in the appropriate manner and with the appropriate authorities both in the UAE and elsewhere … I am absolutely determined to bring to light the full facts, and the whole truth, around what has transpired as soon as possible."

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank has initiated criminal legal proceedings with the attorney general in Abu Dhabi against a number of individuals linked to NMC Health.
"This action is consistent with the bank's objective to protect its interests," the lender said in a statement on Wednesday.
The bank, which is the embattled hospital operator's biggest sole creditor with an exposure of $981 million, did not specify who it had initiated criminal proceedings against.

A UK court placed NMC Health into administration on the application of ADCB last week.

Overall, UAE banks have a combined exposure of at least Dh8bn to the healthcare firm. Other significant creditors include Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, Dubai Islamic Bank, Barclays and Standard Chartered. NMC also owes money to Oman-based banks and financial institutions.

The latest development comes as joint administrators Alvarez & Marsal appointed four new non-executive directors "to ensure more robust standards of governance" at the firm.

More than 80 major local, regional and international financial institutions extended credit to NMC, which was founded by Mr Shetty in Abu Dhabi in 1975, and now employs more than 2,000 doctors and about 20,000 other staff in 19 countries.

The company has made a series of damaging disclosures in the past few months after a report by activist investor Muddy Waters in December alleged it inflated cash balances, overpaid for assets and understated its debt.

Last month, NMC revealed its debt stood at $6.6bn, substantially higher than the $2.1bn declared in its last filed accounts. A review committee also discovered evidence of "suspected fraudulent behaviour".
In February, the UK's Financial Conduct Authority launched an investigation into NMC's activities after the company's shares were suspended from trading on the London Stock Exchange.

NMC Health appointed Ithmar Capital’s managing partner, Faisal Belhoul, as executive chairman on March 26 after the Dubai private equity firm took a 9 per cent stake in the healthcare company.

Mr Shetty's financial services holding company Finablr is also facing challenges. Last month, the company cited a number of issues affecting its business, including travel restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the recent credit downgrade of Travelex’s bonds and a liquidity squeeze. It announced a potential insolvency appointment and the UAE Central Bank subsequently intervened to oversee Finablr’s UAE Exchange business.

Mr Shetty resigned as NMC chairman in February and from Finablr unit Travelex's board in March. The 77-year-old has a net worth of $3.15bn, according to Forbes.