This episode features an interview with Simon Clark, a reporter at The Wall Street Journal and the co-author of The Key Man — the summer’s must-read book about Arif Naqvi and the downfall of The Abraaj Group.
Most listeners and followers of Portico will be familiar with the background of the Abraaj story. But if you’re not, I’d recommend that you go back and listen to Episode 8.
But even more, I’d recommend you purchase a copy of The Key Man for yourself (USA, UK). It’s an absolutely riveting book; it has the pace of John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood, but with an unbelievable cast of credulous characters who fell for a fantasy.
In today’s conversation, Simon and I discuss:
The origins of Abraaj, some of its early transactions, and the oft-asked question: where did they get their money?
Abraaj’s acquisition of Aureos and how it unlocked the firm’s ability to scale.
The manufacture of social capital — the people and firms who testified to the greatness of Arif and Abraaj, seemingly without conducting an ounce of due diligence.
The Karachi Electric deal.
The $6B mega-fund.
The promise of impact investing.
The necessity of greater transparency in private equity.
And much more.
I had four pages of questions for Simon, so we clearly didn’t get to everything on my list — and candidly some of the unasked questions may be better over a pint.
But do yourself a favor and grab a copy of the book.
I wanted to experiment with a different format for this episode and share my writings on the Abraaj fraud scandal as they were happening in real time a few years ago.
Now, for those who don’t know Abraaj, it was one of the largest — and probably the flashiest — private equity firms dedicated to investing in emerging markets. It was spearheading a big push into impact investing and was marketing a $6B fund when it collapsed in insolvency under allegations of fraud.
There are a few reasons why I wanted to revisit my articles:
First, the founder of Abraaj — a man named Arif Naqvi — had been fighting a battle in UK courts to avoid extradition to the United States. He lost that fight earlier this year.
Third, the Abraaj story is a useful prism for seeing the world as it is — unvarnished. As you listen, I encourage you to think about how social capital, branding, and reputation are manufactured; how an industry that talks about due diligence did little to none; and the credulity that money buys.