Imran defends private equity tycoon in BBC documentary
LONDON: Former prime minister Imran Khan has strongly defended the Abraaj founder and private equity tycoon Arif Naqvi as his personal friend who wanted to do good for others, especially in Pakistan, in the process of making a true impact in the financial world circuit.
In doing so, he was joined by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, his predecessor as prime minister who agreed with him especially when it came to the role played in the demise of Abraaj due to the issues in selling Karachi Electric to the Chinese.
Their views were aired in an hour-long BBC research documentary Billion Dollar Downfall: The Dealmaker – on the rise and fall of Arif Naqvi and his brainchild Abraaj.
Imran Khan said, “The more money he (Naqvi) made, the more successful he got and the more he contributed to good.”
Imran Khan spoke to the BBC documentary alongside others including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi; this correspondent as Geo reporter for exclusively covering Arif Naqvi’s case; former CEO of Unilever Paul Polman; Simon Clarke and William Louch, who published a book on Abraaj; Khalid Janahi, former chairman of Dar al Maal Islami Trust in Geneva and a long time Davos attendee; and Andrew Farnum, manager of the Gates Foundation’s Strategic Investment Fund, amongst others.
Both Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Imran Khan defended Arif Naqvi’s work and lamented that he was now under house arrest in London, awaiting extradition to the United States to face a possible imprisonment of nearly 300 years over charges of money laundering, wire fraud and financial mismanagement.
The BBC documentary also featured Arif Naqvi’s video comments for the first time in which the Pakistani national strongly denied all allegations, denying any intent of criminality and stressing his innocence. These videos appeared to be a compilation of his personal diaries or video recordings of zoom calls made with family and close friends during Covid lockdown in his home in London where he states, “It’s a very different Arif from the Arif you folks knew. But it is still… somewhere there.”
Arif Naqvi has yet to grant an interview to media over the past four years since his arrest and the clips did not address the matters listed in his indictment. But others around the documentary aired enough questions to begin to provide a slightly more balanced narrative in the international media compared to the Simon Clarke-led biased narrative to date.
It is clear to note from the videos alongside further reports regarding the Arif Naqvi case that his mental and physical health has seriously worsened following the collapse of the group, arrest and subsequent house arrest.
In the gripping documentary, while former disgruntled employees at Abraaj or from the Gates Foundation spoke against Arif Naqvi and called for his punishment, two former Pakistani prime ministers, former Unilever CEO Paul Polman and businessman Khaled Janahi defended Arif Naqvi and described his work as phenomenal and praised him for making a big impact in the developing world. They said Naqvi could have erred in many ways and lost trust of those he worked with but in the process his contribution to society was of a significant nature and given the chance he will do good again. But the documentary laid bare the senior level support that he enjoyed, and the more junior staff that levelled allegations.
Imran Khan also said Arif Naqvi helped raise funds for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) through a cricket match at his countryside home – the match was also attended by Imran Khan where he played and explained that Naqvi had organised a dinner for Pakistanis in order to raise funds for PTI.
The PTI chairman said, “I met Arif Naqvi on and off in those days and the more money he made, he made sure that the people in Pakistan benefited from it. He set up Aman Foundation and this foundation did a lot of charitable work in Pakistan. He set up ambulance services in various parts of the country. I have known him for 25 years and certainly consider him a friend.”
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told BBC that Arif Naqvi met him when he was Pakistan prime minister after Nawaz Sharif was ousted by Saqib Nisar-led Pakistan Supreme Court.
“Arif Naqvi asked to see me in relation to Karachi Electric. He said it was critical for Abraaj and for him. As Prime Minister of Pakistan, I felt this was important for Pakistan so I tried. I allowed my Military Secretary to allow him full access to me and my office. It was the single largest Chinese investment in Pakistan.” He regretted that “for the whole host of issues we couldn’t finalise that transaction”, including a mysterious comment on how more facts will come to light when sensitive documents are declassified after 25 years.
Arif Naqvi was arrested in London in April 2019 by Scotland Yard on request of the US Department of Justice for extradition to the US. He is accused by US prosecutors as being part of an international scheme to defraud investors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In several video clips, Arif Naqvi described how he was feted by the world leaders one minute and the next he was sought by the United States of America and now under house arrest.
Arif Naqvi stressed, “I know what I’ve done in my life but more importantly, I know what I haven’t done what I haven’t done in my life, and I am crystal clear in front of my maker, I’ve never committed an intentional act of criminality, nor was I aware of any actions that could be construed as such. I categorically claim innocence from those charges.” Naqvi said his motto was never to make money primarily but giving it away and creating a positive impact in the poorer countries to benefit the local societies. He spoke fondly about Aman Foundation charity that he set up with his money and which ran successfully till Naqvi’s financial collapse. “Over the last decades Aman has saved over a million lives, I know that for a fact.”
Arif Naqvi described the toll the house-arrest and fear of being extradited to the US has taken on him. “My fear sits with me, in my bed, sofa, and in my ankle bracelet while I am facing extradition.” The BBC filmed around Davos, Dubai, Seattle, London, Pakistan, Cairo and spoke to people who either worked with Arif Naqvi or knew him well, including Gulf businessman Khaled Janahi who hoped that Naqvi “would be able to make one last deal” or Unilever former CEO Paul Polman noting that Naqvi was a force in the impact investing world during their time together designing the global Sustainable Development Goals and as members of the B-team. Simon Clarke and William Louch described how they were passed a tip off by an Abraaj insider about the financial mismanagement and then they started looking into the books of Abraaj and found irregularities. The documentary revealed two of the sources for the first time; Giles Montgomery Swan, who had only joined Abraaj just before its collapse and provided a series of corporate documents and computer records and bank statements to the journalists. This correspondent told BBC how Arif Naqvi’s investment in Karachi brought a breath of fresh air to one of the most congested cities on this planet and how riots and mayhem used to erupt over power outages and how Naqvi seriously attempted to address the chronic issues of power outages.
Former PM Imran Khan said Naqvi brought Karachi Electric to Pakistan – “the biggest foreign investment in Pakistan and over the years we found that Karachi Electric ran far more efficiently than when the government was running it”. Prior to Abraaj signing the exit to Shanghai Electric in 2016, Karachi Electric became a case study for large institutions all around the world around the role of private capital in being a force for good. Their investment and involvement turned the company around over an 8-year period, where though they suffered, Abraaj were able to create an efficient machine that helped power Karachi. This correspondent also told BBC about the charitable work Arif Naqvi has done and the contribution he made in the form of building multi-million dollar mosques in Dubai and London as well building community centres for Pakistani diaspora in Dubai. Naqvi in his personal videos when talking about the approach taken by the Wall Street Journal reporters said that he was being ignored: “I sent letters and responses in writing. I sent them verbally, but nothing that I said was reported. I only stopped when I realised that it didn’t really matter. It continued to be a one-sided narrative”.
Naqvi’s lawyers also responded and noted that they and he “welcome any trial of these issues before the courts in the UK”. During the extradition process, Naqvi and his lawyers have been unable to argue the facts of his case and dispute the allegations in the indictment due to the Extradition Treaty signed between the UK and US. While the documentary laid out the charges and the brief chronology of the story, it did not provide key details including that forensic accounting firm Deloitte had provided a report for investors in May 2018 stating that all monies were accounted for, or that leading law firm Freshfields had provided Abraaj with a legal opinion stating that their treatment of the Healthcare funds were in line with fund documents.
The Abraaj Group successfully invested and then sold over 150 companies across emerging markets, and according to documents, had indirectly employed over half a million people prior to its collapse in 2018, at which point, it had interests in over 50 companies and over $14 billion of assets under management.