Key Figure in 1MDB Probe Is Arrested in Abu Dhabi

Wall Street Journal
Aug. 18, 2016

Investigators are looking into alleged fraud related to a Malaysian fund

Abu Dhabi authorities have arrested Khadem Al Qubaisi, who authorities say is a key figure in an alleged multibillion-dollar fraud related to a Malaysian sovereign-wealth fund, according to people familiar with the matter.

The arrest last week was made in relation to an Abu Dhabi investigation into fraud and corruption, which includes Mr. Qubaisi’s alleged role in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd., known as 1MDB, affair, the people said. No charges have been filed against him.

Mr. Qubaisi was previously restricted from leaving the United Arab Emirates and had his assets in the country frozen, The Wall Street Journal reported in April.

A lawyer for Mr. Qubaisi declined to comment.

U.S. investigators are currently broadening their probe into Mr. Qubaisi’s dealings and funds they suspect he took control of through the alleged fraud, according to people familiar with the probe. The Justice Department filed civil lawsuits last month seeking to freeze about $100 million of real estate in the U.S. that he allegedly bought with money embezzled from 1MDB, a fund set up in 2009 to boost Malaysia’s economy.

In following what the Justice Department says is a $470 million money trail that stretches from Malaysia to Abu Dhabi to the British Virgin Islands, investigators now are looking for any connections to a company that vaulted to the top of the Las Vegas nightclub scene with two $100 million venues, the people said.

Investigators also are trying to determine if Mr. Qubaisi used funds originating from 1MDB to help finance the world’s fifth-biggest yacht, according to people familiar with the probe.

The July action by the Justice Department to seize more than $1 billion worth of assets allegedly purchased with money stolen from the fund is the government’s largest-ever attempted asset seizure for an international corruption case. Federal Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said at the time that the inquiry was ongoing and that “the Malaysian people were defrauded on an enormous scale.”

The 1MDB fund has denied wrongdoing and said it would cooperate with any lawful investigation.

Mr. Qubaisi hasn’t commented on the allegations.

The company that runs the Las Vegas nightclubs is called Hakkasan Ltd., which is based in London and controlled by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, deputy prime minister of U.A.E. and member of the Abu Dhabi royal family. Investigators sent a subpoena to Neil Moffitt, the company’s chief executive, earlier this year, the people familiar with the probe said.

There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against Hakkasan or its employees, the people said. The U.S. investigation is focused on Mr. Qubaisi’s actions, many of them taking place in offshore jurisdictions, the people said.

Mr. Qubaisi, 45 years old, was chairman of Hakkasan and a member of its board of directors. He resigned from the company on May 9, and a new board of directors, including former U.S. Sen. Norman Coleman, was named. He was removed last year from his job at the International Petroleum Investment Company, Abu Dhabi’s $80 billion sovereign-wealth fund.

Mr. Qubaisi received some $470 million of money siphoned from 1MDB, according to the U.S. government complaint. Prosecutors identified several properties he allegedly purchased with that money, including a $51 million penthouse in New York’s Walker Tower and two mansions in Los Angeles worth a combined $46 million.

The remainder of those funds, more than $300 million, haven’t yet been accounted for.

Brandon Roos, Hakkasan’s vice president of legal affairs, said in a letter to the Journal that the company had conducted its own “internal review of funding documentation and we remain fully confident that Hakkasan received capital from a legitimate fund in the Middle East” that isn’t connected to entities involved in the 1MDB affair. He said that the Justice Department had confirmed Hakkasan is “not the subject or target of their 1MDB investigation.”

In a separate letter provided by a lawyer for Hakkasan to the Journal, the lawyer said Hakkasan’s absence from the government’s civil suits was “clear evidence that Hakkasan, in the judgment of the Department of Justice, has not been the beneficiary of or a conduit for the laundering of monies illicitly obtained by Mr. Qubaisi and his confederates.”

Founded as a high-end Cantonese restaurant in London in 2001, Hakkasan expanded into nightclubs and now has venues in the Middle East, India, China and the U.S. Sheikh Mansour’s investment company in Abu Dhabi, Tasameem Real Estate LLC, bought it in 2008 and Mr. Qubaisi soon after became Hakkasan’s chairman. Mr. Qubaisi also was previously a director of Tasameem.

Starting in 2013, the company began to expand in Las Vegas, especially in nightclubs. It gained attention for signing up blockbuster DJs, including Calvin Harris and Tiësto, on exclusive contracts rising to several hundred thousand dollars a night.

“They made a huge splash,” said Ryan Dahlstrom, president and founder of the Nightclub Hall of Fame that honors nightlife innovators. “They bought out all the big DJs and came at the industry with hundreds of millions of dollars…They cornered the market.”

Hakkasan spent some $107 million building the Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, which is outfitted with a giant, moving chandelier covered in lights that flash in sequence. Some have compared it to a UFO hovering over the dance floor. It opened in 2015.

The U.S. government’s inquiries are related to financing the company received during or after 2012, when part of the alleged 1MDB fraud involving Mr. Qubaisi took place, according to people familiar with the probe. Hakkasan disclosed hundreds of millions of dollars of shareholder loans from 2012 to 2016, according to public financial filings by the company in the U.K.

Much of these loans were reduced by Hakkasan’s issuance of a “non-share equity instrument” to an undisclosed third party, according to its latest filings covering up to June 30, 2015. No other details were given. Tasameem, Hakkasan’s controlling shareholder, is a diversified investment company that has received funds from a number of sources, according to people familiar with its finances.

U.S. investigators are also probing the financing of a mega yacht controlled by Sheikh Mansour called the Topaz, which at 482 feet is the world’s fifth largest, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Representatives of Sheikh Mansour didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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