There are two very different sides to the prominent Abu Dhabi civil servant Khadem Al-Qubaisi, who chairs the emirate’s Aabar sovereign fund, according to an extensive body of information that has been passed to Sarawak Report.
For example, when he appeared in Kuala Lumpur on March 12th 2013, playing the key figure in a much vaunted multi-billion joint venture investment project with 1MDB, he cut a highly traditional figure.
Clad in flowing white Arab robes he presented a picture of strict Muslim sobriety.
However, as our photographs show, there is another side to this senior executive.
In Las Vegas and the South of France he has become recently known as a super rich playboy, who owns a string of sports cars, three vast villas and one of the world’s largest yachts.
This Mr Qubaisi favours ‘daring’ t-shirts featuring lewd graphics or terrorist gunmen. He owns nightclubs and hangs out in strip joints (see below).
Yet Al-Qubaisi is one of Abu Dhabi’s most senior fund managers.
He is the Chairman of Aabar, which is a major subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund IPIC (International Petroleum Investment Company) of which he is also the Managing Director.
His immediate boss is Sheik Mansour a brother of the Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed Zayed Al-Nahyan, who accompanied Al-Qubaisi on the 2013 visit to Putrajaya for the official signing ceremony of the so-called ‘joint venture investment’ between the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.
Prime Minister Najib Razak made sure that the full day event was attended with the greatest possible fan-fare, as it was announced that the two countries would raise billions for investment in projects in Malaysia on a supposedly 50:50 basis, which would allegedly provide Malaysians with “hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs”.
According to news reports on the official 1MDB press site, local media were told that the Arab country had committed no less than RM39 billion ringgit of investment for Malaysia, RM18 billion of which was for a joint venture with 1MDB:
“The oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE) has committed RM39bil to two projects that will create hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs for Malaysians.
The projects involve the setting up of a RM21bil strategic petroleum reserve in Tanjung Piai, Johor, and a RM18bil strategic partnership in the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX)….The second project, involving Abu Dhabi-based sovereign fund Aabar and 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), is to promote fresh economic initiatives to spur billions of ringgit in long-term sustainable investments in Malaysia.” [Star newspaper]
But, as it turns out, two year later no money has been raised by Abu Dhabi for this venture.
According to DAP’s opposition spokesman Tony Pua, USD3 billion was raised in borrowing by 1MDB in the name of these projects, but it was not matched by Aabar. And of even that money, only half can be publicly accounted for:
“Just over half of that money is now missing. About RM5 billion of it went into an anonymous fund and is parked somewhere”, says Pua.
In fact, it is clear that far from investing in Malaysia, ‘joint venture partners’ such as Abu Dhabi’s Aabar have been sucking a fortune out 1MDB.
Aabar’s strange investment strategies with 1MDB
For example, as Sarawak Report exclusively revealed two years ago, a USD$1.75 billion bond issue that was raised in March 2012 to fund 1MDB’s purchase of a power plant, Tanjong Energy, ended up being fantastically expensive, not least because it was jointly guaranteed by Aabar.
In July 2013 Sarawak Report published details of that bond issue, which until then had been kept secret.
These reveal that the terms of the deal which 1MDB entered into with Aabar could hardly have been more invidious.
Given the costs involved the conditions are barely inexplicable, say experts like the Edge Magazine, which has examined the matter in detail.
To begin with the rate of interest was 5.99%, meaning the money could easily have been raised much more cheaply elsewhere.
Even more extraordinary was the 11% declared in fees by the commissioning bank Goldman Sachs International, when a more usual rate for such a deal would have been less than 1%.
And there was another very peculiar aspect to the loan, which lost 1MDB a huge amount of money, say critics.
This was an option that was granted to Aabar to buy up 49% of the power plant in return for its guarantee of the loan.
Staggeringly, the terms of the deal also allowed Aabar to keep 45% of the proceeds (RM9.3 billion) of the Malaysian funded bond issue, in return for its role as ‘co-guarantor’.
In order to buy Aabar out of this prejudicial position 1MDB later had to pay at least USD$250 million, says Pua.
The Edge business magazine has itself calculated that the total cost of this barmy agreement might have actually exceeded USD$1 billion.
The magazine says that Aabar was also the guarantor of a second Genteng power plant purchase loan, which was framed along similar lines later in August 2012.
These deals were, needless to say presided over by the 1MDB Advisory Board and its Chairman, the Finance Minister and Prime Minister.
Time to investigate the links between Aabar and Jho Low?
It is against this background that Sarawak Report has now obtained documents, which show that the company Good Star Limited, Male, Seychelles, paid USD$20.75 million into the Edmund de Rothschild Private Bank (BPERE), Luxembourg account of a company owned by the Aabar Chairman, Khadem al-Qubaisi on 20th February 2013.
Sarawak Report revealed earlier this month that Good Star is a company controlled by the businessman Jho Low, who is closely linked to the Malaysian Prime Minister cum Finance Minister cum 1MDB Advisory Board Chairman, Najib Razak.
This Cayman Island company with an address in the Seychelles received a total of at least USD$940 million of the USD$2.2 billion that was supposedly invested in the “front company” PetroSaudi by 1MDB in 2009/2010.
The details of our expose have revealed Jho Low to be the man driver of the whole PetroSaudi deal in 2009/10.
We have also demonstrated how Jho Low claimed to be acting on behalf of the Prime Minister.
So was Jho Low still in the 1MDB driving seat during the later 1MDB power plant purchase deals in 2012 and the Aabar ‘joint venture agreement’ in March 2013 and if so why did his company pay Vasco Investment Services, a company which is beneficially owned by Khadem al-Qubaisi, USD$20.75 million in February 2013?
Network of links between Jho Low and Aabar
Sarawak Report has over the past months identified numerous links between Aabar Investments and the businessman Jho Low.
Coincidentally, many of these links also involve 1MDB.
Abu Dhabi first appeared on the scene in the context of Jho Low back in 2008, when a company fronted by Low, called Majestic Masterpiece, took a substantial interest in the Sarawak Taib family owned UBG bank.
UBG had just managed to persuade the Employee Provident Fund (controlled by the former State Secretary of Sarawak amongst others) to buy out its share of RHB Bank for over RM1.4 billion in 2007. Therefore, it’s parent company CMS had money to invest.
The Edge has detailed how Jho Low offered to invest that money and then sell the bank on for a profit for Taib, having made a cool one hundred million up front from the Sarawak politician, by persuading him to buy up chunks of Iskandar, in which he had already taken a stake, before he had even paid the deposit.
The owner of Majestic Masterpiece was an outfit named ADKMIC Abu Dhabi-Kuwait-Malaysia Investment Corporation, based in Abu Dhabi.
This is a shadowy corporation to have taken a commanding stake in one of Malaysia’s largest banks, because it has never declared its Directors and Shareholders.
However, under pressure, the twenty something at the time Jho Low blabbed to the Star newspaper that both he and the wife of the Sultan of Terengganu (whose petroleum fund was later the foundation of 1MDB) were on the board and that he was a 10% shareholder, alongside two named Kuwaiti and Emirate figures, Sheikh Sabah and Yousef Al Otaiba and ‘a few others’.
According to the interview, it was not long after this, in 2008, that Jho Low claimed he was consulted by the Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) on whether to buy out some of EPF’s stake in RHB, which ADCB then did, taking a 25% share in the bank.
In fact, ADCB soon made moves to get rid of its shares in RHB, selling them on in June 2011 to none other than Aabar.
The Prime Minister cum Finance Minister Najib Razak was prominent at the signing ceremony for the transfer deal, as was Khadem al-Qubaisi, clad once more in flowing white attire.
Sarawak Report has seen strong evidence to support the conclusion that Jho Low had been closely involved in factoring this RHB deal, which involved the sale of a quarter share of a key Malaysian bank by one arm of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth management apparatus, the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, to another – the IPIC subsidiary Aaabar, run by al-Qubaisi.
A further forward sale of this holding was almost immediately mooted and it is currently the subject of fierce manoeuvring by some of Malaysia’s own home banks, who are seeking to consolidate control of RHB and need the cooperation of Aabar.
London hotel buy-out
Therefore, it is noteworthy that at the very same time as these negotiations were being pursued in April 2011, Jho Low, 1MDB and Aabar investments were also engaged closely together in an attempt to try and buy out London’s top hotel group, Maybourne
Contrary to Jho Low’s repeated claims that he has had no business dealings with 1MDB, the British judge confirmed that his company Wynton Capital’s bid for the billion pound hotel group had received a letter backing his position from 1MDB:
“I don’t play any role in 1MDB, and I did not get compensated by 1MDB or any other government-owned entities although some blogs have mentioned that I did. That is untrue.” [Jho Low speaking to the Star 2010]
The judge also detailed that Jho Low had tried to engage Abu Dhabi’s Aabar investments into the same deal in a three way bid with the UK’s Barclay brothers, who subsequently pulled out as they were not interested in Aabar:
“The Malaysian based investor was Jho Low, a businessman with some backing from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund. Through an entity called The Wynton Group, offers were made to the company and shareholders in January and February 2011……The provision on 15th January 2011 of a letter from 1 Malaysian Berhad, an investment vehicle wholly owned by the Malaysian government, confirming its support for the offer, did not allay the concerns of the majority of the shareholders” [Justice David Richards, Judgement pars 50 & 138]
This was all at the same time in early 2011 that Aabar was involved in buying a share in RBH bank.
Over to America
Moving forward to 2013 it appears that Jho Low was still doing business with Aabar.
Because, surprisingly, the youthful tycoon’s company Jynwell Capital stepped into a supporting role (and into the limelight) during Aabar’s purchase of the Canadian oil company Coastal Energy, which has strong interests in the Far East.
Why Jynwell and Jho Low should have a role in this Aabar buy-out, when the sovereign wealth fund has unlimited resources to take over companies like Coastal is seemingly unclear.
However, Jho Low was publicised as a partner in the deal, through Jynwell’s subsidiary Strategic Resources (Global) Ltd.
SRG in fact holds a notably similar name to the 1MDB subsidiary later taken over by the Ministry of Finance, named SRC.
SRC also became involved in a joint venture with Aabar in December 2011 named Aabar-SRC Strategic Resources Limited.
The activities of this company, which has involved borrowing from Malaysia’s public Pension Fund to the tune of RM4 billion, has been the subject of many unanswered questions, since the accounts were removed from those of 1MDB through its transfer to the Ministry of Finance.
The joint purchase of Coastal Energy meanwhile was shouldered by Aabar’s Spanish subsidiary CEPSA, which paid out USD$2.2 billion for the company.
The Chairman of CEPSA, which became a full subsidiary of IPIC in February 2011 is also, incidentally, Khadem al-Qubaisi.
More recently still, Aabar has been tied in with Jho Low’s October 2014 bid for the shoe firm Reebok, reported by Malaysian Government backed blogs as being funded by the Abu Dhabi fund.
According to the financial press such deals are part of a recent frenzy of complex takeovers where Jho Low has acted only as a minor investor, but as a key ‘facilitator’ for major funds in the Middle East – and that these maneouvres have turned his family into one of the richest in Malaysia.
So, is it so much of a surprise that when things got rather tough on the publicity side for Jho Low and his very dear friend, Riza Aziz, who is the son of Najib Razak, the boys from Aabar appear to have stepped in to take some of the heat?
After months of refusing to identify the anonymous backers behind Riza’s USD$100 million Hollywood production Wolf of Wall Street, his company Red Granite Pictures finally announced last August that the money behind the movie had come from none other than Mohamed Ahmed Badawy Al-Husseiny, Khadem’s CEO and right hand man at Aabar Investments.
Yet questions clearly remain as to how Mr Al-Husseiny managed to mobilise so much personal disposable income into a risky film venture by the rookie producer, who holds such close ties to his day job?
Mr Al-Husseiny is doubtless exceedingly well paid, but his role is that of a salaried civil servant – as is that primarily of his Chairman Mr Khadem al-Qubaisi.
It leaves the assumption that there is a fuller story to be told about the actual nature of the Aabar connected investment into Red Granite Pictures growing stable of movies.
The wealthiest man in St Tropez?
Meanwhile, the success and wealth of the Aabar Chairman himself appears to have reached dramatically ostentatious levels, particularly since 2012, where it has been creating considerable comment in France’s ever fashionable Cote D’Azure – and indeed his other watering holes, such as Las Vegas.
Al-Qubaisi is certainly referred to as a businessman as well as a salaried government fund manager.
However most of his public activities have been related to his management of official public funds in keeping with his duties at the International Petroleum Investment Company.
So, it would be interesting to know what private activities have generated an income to sustain, for example, the part-purchase of the world’s 5th largest yacht The Topaz, price tag USD$400 million?
Or his purchase for USD$50 million of one of New York’s most expensive apartments in the Walker Tower?
Or indeed his three grand villas on the Cote D’Azure?
The playboy version of Mr Qubaisi is also very keen on highly expensive cars and is knows to own a fleet worth millions of dollars.
Most eye-catching, according to car spotters in the South of France, has been his double Bugatti deal, twin mega-pricy Veyron Super Sports.
One is trimmed in pink and the other is blue, both emblazoned with special edition KAQ badges and with near identical Swiss number plates.
Running one of the world’s top sovereign wealth funds clearly has its perks and must present fabulous private business opportunities, which presumably are allowed under Abu Dhabi’s civil service rules.
And with such wealth to flaunt and a similar taste for nightlife, it is perhaps not surprising that Al-Qubaisi seems to have drifted into the same social set as Jho Low – after all there has been so much official business at Aabar that has touched on Jho Low’s private dealings.
It is perhaps of little surprise therefore, that the Hollywood hard party set around Jho Low, which includes Leonardo di Caprio, star of Riza Aziz’s movie Wolf of Wall Street, were to be found on the Topaz when they all came down to Brazil to watch the World Cup.
Jho Low now says he introduced Di Caprio to Riza and that this was the vital role he played that inspired a special note of thanks at the end of the movie.
And, since Di Caprio promotes himself as an environmental activist, it was perhaps equally predictable that Abu Dhabi has highlighted his credentials, by recently flying him to the state in order to honour its own leadership’s environmental image.
The connection has extended further. When Aabar became the key funder for the Virgin Galatica project, Di Caprio was promoted as the star who would be leading the way on its space travel programme (presently in tatters after a Galactica disintegrated in space earlier this year).
Indeed, Mr al-Qubaisi’s private businesses are perfectly in tune with the interests of this Hollywood crowd, who have also become intertwined with his official activities.
These include his chairmanship of Hakkasan, a restaurant business that was started in London in the early 2000s and has now expanded globally into nightclubs following a buy out by Khaddem.
However, Malaysians will be still be wanting to know how it is that Good Star, the company controlled by Jho Low and which received nearly a billion dollars in funds channelled from 1MDB, paid out such a substantial sum to this gentleman?
This is particularly the case, given the extensive involvement of Mr al-Qubaisi’s public fund in matters to do with 1MDB and in various private ventures organised by Jho Low’s own private companies.