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Abraaj’s Naqvi cedes control of funds division

People are pictured at the Dubai International Financial Center in this November 10, 2013. REUTERS/Omr Mohamed

Abraaj Group’s founder Arif Naqvi will cede control of the fund management business in a sweeping restructuring of the Middle East’s largest private equity firm following reports of misused funds. Omar Lodhi and Selcuk Yorgancioglu were promoted to co-chief executive officers of Abraaj Investment Management Ltd., which will oversee funds globally for institutional investors, according to a statement Friday. The firm has also halted making new commitments for its capital until the reorganization is complete, it said.

Abraaj, which manages about $13.6 billion, is reorganizing the business following allegations in recent weeks that money in its health care fund had been misused.

The firm this month said a review by KPMG found no wrongdoing, and that all payments and receipts had been properly accounted for and unused capital had been returned to investors. The Dubai-based firm said Friday it has hired independent consultants to review its corporate governance and controls.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank’s International Finance Corp. unit, CDC Group and Proparco Group had hired a forensic accountant to examine what happened to some of their money in the health fund, The Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 2, citing people familiar with the matter. Abraaj attributed the discrepancy between the amount of money requested and the amount invested to project delays, the newspaper said.

Naqvi, 57, will remain CEO of Abraaj Holdings and retain a nonexecutive role on the fund division’s investment committee, according to the statement. The Karachi, Pakistan-born executive said Friday that he’d outlined his plans to transition from his previous role and to separate the asset management from the holding company in a January 2017 staff memo.

“The key now is to fix the plumbing and the backbone, and that is what we are really focused on doing right now” for the fund management business, he said in an interview Friday at Abraaj’s offices at the Dubai International Financial Center. “This has got to be the right time to create the transitionary moment when we create an entity that is fit for purpose going forward.”

The new structure and management will be “more typical” of a private equity firm, Naqvi said. “This is a separation of the individual from the institution and it is the institution that is going to be in the asset management business.”

The review commissioned by the firm is meant to pave the way for improving operational efficiency, according to Abraaj’s statement.

The funds division will also have an independent board to oversee internal audits and compliance.

Founded by Naqvi in Dubai in 2002, the Abraaj Group is one of the largest buyout firms in emerging markets with operations across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Turkey. It bought Aureos Capital in 2012 to expand into Africa and Latin America and acquired a North African private equity fund the previous year from Amundi SA. Only 17 percent of Abraaj’s portfolio is now in the Middle East, Naqvi said at a conference in November.

“Private equity is still in its infancy in emerging markets,” said Yorgancioglu, 50, who was previously the Abraaj partner for Turkey. “So there is still huge room for growth: You should expect us to continue growing at the same speed.”

Lodhi and Yorgancioglu, who have each been with the company for over a decade, will take on their new responsibilities immediately, Abraaj said. The underpenetration in sectors such as health, education and fast-moving consumer goods in Abraaj’s markets offer an opportunity for profit growth, according to Lodhi. He had previously overseen Asian operations.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 24, 2018, on page 4.

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