Naqvi lawyer: US ‘political interests’ behind Abraaj charges

Barrister Hugo Keith QC says the US government's case is politically motivated due to the threat Abraaj Group and Arif Naqvi represent to US interests.

US prosecutors’ charges against collapsed emerging markets firm Abraaj Group‘s founder are politically motivated, a London court has heard.

The indictment brought against Arif Naqvi were brought out of “political interests” due to the threat Abraaj and its founder posed to US interests, barrister Hugo Keith QC said at a case management hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.

Naqvi’s extradition trial to the US has been scheduled for February, giving the defence time to compile a case alleging “ulterior motives” on the part of the US government.

The pressure of awaiting trial on bail has caused deterioration in Naqvi’s mental and physical health, Keith added. Naqvi was granted £15 million ($19.02 million; €16.8 million) bail in late May – a UK record amount.

In response to the defence’s preference for a trial in early 2020, the judge scheduled a four-day hearing at Southwark Crown Court for 3 February. The evidence of the defence is due on 15 October with a response by the US prosecution due on 7 January.

Managing partner Sev Vettivetpillai, who was granted £1 million bail, will appear on the same date. Both men remain on bail with conditions.

According to an updated indictment filed on 13 June, from mid-2017 Abraaj provided investors and potential investors with “materially inflated” valuations, under Naqvi’s direction. It is also alleged that from 2014 onward he misappropriated or directed others to misappropriate funds from Abraaj’s global healthcare fund, some of which went on the  enrichment of hmself and associates.

Former director of operations and managing partner Waqar Siddique, chief financial officer Ashish Dave and managing director Rafique Lakhani – described as having day-to-day responsibility for the enterprise’s cashflow – were added to the June indictment. The previous version included Arif Naqvi, Mustafa Abdel-Wadood and Sev Vettivetpillai.

In April the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint that will run in parallell to the criminal trial.

Read more on the charges facing the Abraaj Group executives here.

– This story has been updated to show Vettivetpillai’s bail was £1 million.