Finablr uncovers additional $1bn in debt hidden from its board

Investment bank Houlihan Lokey said the funds may have been used for purposes outside the company

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., June 20, 2018.  Interview with Dr B R Shetty, founder of BRS Ventures, including NMC Health and UAE Exchange together with Promoth Manghat, Executive Director, Finablr. -- image-- Dr. B.R. Shetty
SECTION:  Business
Reporter:Sarah Townsend
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Payments and currency exchange group Finablr has uncovered $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in previously unreported debt, which may have been used for purposes outside the company, it said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange.

The new findings by investment bank Houlihan Lokey and independent investigator Kroll raise the total indebtedness of the firm, excluding that of Travelex, to $1.3bn.

"This is materially above the last reported figure for the group's indebtedness position as at 30 June 2019 and the levels of indebtedness previously disclosed to the board," the company said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange earlier this week.

The company had previously reported net debt of $334.1m as at June 30, 2019, when it published results for the period in August last year.

Finablr and Houlihan Lokey "intend to engage further with the group's creditors to explore the options that may be available to the group and its creditors", the statement said.

Finablr is co-chaired and majority-owned by BR Shetty. The company was floated on the London Stock Exchange in May last year, giving it a valuation of $1.3bn.

However, in recent weeks it has reported liquidity problems and the operations of its UAE Exchange currency business are now being overseen by the country's central bank. Its shares were suspended from trading on March 16, by which time its value had fallen to £77.2m (Dh351.7m).

In March, Finablr's board revealed it had been made aware of cheques written by group companies before the initial public offering worth up to $100m "which may have been used as security for financing arrangements for the benefit of third parties”.

The company's auditors, EY, resigned on March 30 after demanding changes to the composition of the board, which Finablr said it had been unable to meet within the required time.

Finablr's last filed accounts for the first half of 2019 showed a loss of $30.1m on group income of $733.6m.

Meanwhile, the company's billionaire owner Mr Shetty said in a statement last week that he was a victim of "serious fraud and wrongdoing".

Mr Shetty blamed the fraud on "a small group of current and former executives". He said bank accounts were created in his name and transactions were made without his knowledge.

Mr Shetty also said loans, cheques, and bank transfers were also fraudulently guaranteed in his name using his "forged signature" and that he "neither authorised, consented to, or had any knowledge of".

Alongside Finablr, Mr Shetty built NMC Health from a single clinic in Abu Dhabi in 1975 and grew it into the UAE's biggest private healthcare provider, with 2,000 doctors and almost 20,000 other staff operating clinics, hospitals and pharmacies in 19 countries.

Problems with his empire first emerged in December when activist investor Muddy Waters, a US-based short seller, issued a report saying NMC Health had inflated its cash balances, overpaid for its assets, and understated its debt.

This sparked an independent investigation which found that debts at NMC Health were materially higher, at $6.6bn, than the $2.1bn previously stated in its accounts. That led its biggest lender, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, to petition for administrators to be appointed earlier this month. Banks in the UAE have declared exposure of at least Dh8bn to NMC Health, and of more than Dh10bn to his broader empire, including Finablr and UAE Exchange.