(Bloomberg) — Dubai’s financial regulator, Dubai Financial Services Authority, fined Abraaj Group, the world’s biggest private equity insolvency to date, a record $315 million for deceiving investors and misappropriating their funds.
The fines ordered by the Dubai Financial Services Authority come as Abraaj, once one of the world’s most influential emerging-market investors, faces legal action in the U.S. The authority’s chief executive officer, Bryan Stirewalt, said the firm’s management “rode roughshod over their compliance function and the misconduct and deceit were pervasive and persistent.”
The penalty is a sign that the regulator is seeking to safeguard Dubai’s position as a business hub and reassure investors over its failure to take action sooner. Former managing partner Mustafa Abdel-Wadood last month pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in the U.S., while five other employees including founder and former CEO Arif Naqvi, have also been charged in the U.S.
The authority sanctioned Abraaj Capital Ltd. and Abraaj Investment Management Ltd. for “serious wrongdoing” and “misusing investors’ monies,” it said on Tuesday. The company’s conduct had “damaged the reputation and integrity” of Dubai’s financial center, it said.
The fine “sets the tone and provides a benchmark for how the DFSA will penalize delinquent institutions going forward,” said Tarek Fadlallah, CEO of the Middle East unit of Nomura Asset Management in Dubai.
The penalty dwarfs an $8.4 million fine against Deutsche Bank AG for “serious breaches” in 2015. The German lender was penalized for misleading the Dubai regulator, failures in internal governance and systems, client take-on and anti-money laundering processes.
Abraaj, which once managed about $14 billion, was forced into liquidation last year after being accused of mismanaging investor funds. Abraaj backers included the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank’s International Finance Corp. Its investments included stakes in health care, clean energy, lending and real estate across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Turkey.
Abraaj’s liquidators in the past year have been trying to sell the company’s funds. London-based Actis LLP took over two funds this month, while Colony Capital acquired its Latin American operations earlier this year.
The DFSA’s investigation into Abraaj started in January 2018. Here’s what it discovered:
- Abraaj Investment borrowed money just before financial reporting dates to show investors the cash balances they expected
- Abraaj Investment changed reporting periods for a fund to disguise shortfalls
- It lied about delays in paying proceeds from asset sales to investors
- Abraaj Investment was fined $299.3 million
- The compliance department at Abraaj Group raised concerns about the company conducting unauthorized activities as early as 2009, but senior management at Abraaj Capital ignored the warnings
- Abraaj Capital deceived the DFSA about its capital adequacy requirements and compliance with DFSA rules
- Abraaj Capital was fined $15.3 million
The DFSA will “pursue the persons or entities who perpetrated this activity, including those who allowed this to happen through major corporate governance breaches, to the full extent of our powers,” it said.