LONDON: Arif Naqvi, the founder of collapsed private equity firm Abraaj Group, on Wednesday lost his final challenge to an impending extradition to the United States, where he faces charges of fraud.
US prosecutors allege that Mr Naqvi masterminded a plot to defraud investors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the US government-run agency Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). He denies wrongdoing, but if convicted, could face a prison term of up to 291 years.
Mr Naqvi had challenged the approval of his extradition in 2021 in the London High Court, but Judge Jonathan Swift refused him permission to bring a judicial review against the 2021 approval of his extradition by then Home Secretary Priti Patel. Ms Patel approved the extradition after a magistrate’s court earlier that year found no bars to extradition.
Edward Fitzgerald, a lawyer for Mr Naqvi, had told the high court a day earlier that if extradited, Mr Naqvi was likely to be held in a New Jersey prison where he may have to share a dormitory with violent criminals.
His lawyers approached the court claiming new evidence supporting this argument, pointing to weaknesses in the US prisons system. They reiterated the argument made during his trial that Mr Naqvi suffers from depression and was ‘at risk of suicide’. They also argued that the 2021 magistrate court ruling failed to take into account US prison conditions which Mr Naqvi would likely be subjected to.
Edward Fitzgerald KC told the high court that conditions in the Essex County Correctional Facility in New Jersey where Mr Naqvi was likely to be kept, would breach his human rights and affect his mental health.
Lawyers representing the US government, however, maintained that Mr Naqvi has been given assurances that prosecutors will not oppose bail before he stands trial if the extradition takes place.
US government lawyer Mark Summers argued that the judge in Mr Naqvi’s case, District Judge Lewis Kaplan, is the same who granted bail to FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, arguing that it is a “strong indication” that Mr Naqvi too will be granted bail. Mr Naqvi’s lawyers, however, believe that allowing or denying bail is the judge’s discretion, and that the US authorities will change their mind if he is extradited.
Judge Swift denied the appeal, and ruled on Wednesday that there had been no “material change” in prison conditions since the 2021 ruling approving Mr Naqvi’s extradition. The judge also said that his suicide risk could be ‘adequately managed’ if he was held in a US prison.
After Wednesday’s ruling, the US government lawyer told the court that the government had a 28-day period to make the arrangements for “a safe and orderly surrender” by Mr Naqvi to the US.
Mr Naqvi is currently on bail under restrictive conditions after lodging £15mn security pending the extradition proceedings. He lives with his family at his apartment in South Kensington.
He was charged in 2019 by US prosecutors over the collapse of Abraaj that at its peak had an investment portfolio of $13 billion. The charges range from fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering to bribery. The company unraveled in 2018 as investors grew concerned about irregularities in its $1 billion healthcare fund.
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2023
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