Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 15 July 2020

Former bank chairman pursued to London over plundered $850m of Kuwaiti state funds

Fahad Al Rajaan has been living in a luxury apartment in London after flight from Kuwait

Fahad Al Rajaan, the former head of Kuwait's Public Institution for Social Security, who faces a court battle in the UK. AUB
Fahad Al Rajaan, the former head of Kuwait's Public Institution for Social Security, who faces a court battle in the UK. AUB

A Kuwaiti businessman sentenced to life in prison for plundering his country’s state pension fund has been living in exile in a luxury London apartment as accountants scramble to unravel his complex finances, The National can reveal.

Fahad Al Rajaan – who headed the fund for three decades – fled to the UK after a whistle-blower triggered a continuing 12-year investigation into alleged kick-backs and money laundering on a vast scale.

The golf-loving Mr Al Rajaan, 71, based in London since 2014, is accused of stealing more than $840m in unauthorised commissions through a network of intermediaries and hiding the proceeds in offshore accounts and a global property empire, according to court papers filed in the UK.

He was arrested by police in London in 2017 at the request of Kuwait but he was released and is understood not to be facing a current threat of extradition. Mr Rajaan said he has been sentenced to life in prison with hard labour in his absence.

The former bank chairman and public servant has been living an “extraordinarily lavish lifestyle” having spent at least $210 million over the last 30 years, a judge said this month.

Officials for the fund, the Public Institution for Social Security (PIFSS), have secured asset-freezing orders in Switzerland and the UK during the remarkable hunt for allegedly stolen assets around the world.

Mr Al Rajaan is said to have assets in countries including Switzerland, Bahrain, Lebanon, USA, Singapore, and Lichtenstein.

Some $100m of assets were frozen in Switzerland and $75m in Kuwait before a London judge imposed a $847m global order last year. Mr Al Rajaan is believed by investigators to have personally received more than $500m from alleged-wrongdoing.

Investigators sought further information after it emerged that he had not given details of a string of properties, that he said were in the names of his children, and $2.5 million of diamonds bought in Geneva.

The stones were bought from a trader that specialised in coloured diamonds but Mr Al Rajaan told his lawyers that he did not know where they were.

The property included a five-bedroom apartment in the upmarket district of Knightsbridge, a stone’s throw from the Harrod’s department store, bought for £6.7 million in 2006 by an Isle of Man-registered trust owned by Mr Al Rajaan, according to property ownership documents. He lives there with his wife Muna Al Wazzan.

Mr Al Rajaan, a former chairman of Bahrain’s Ahli United Bank, also spent more than $30 million on his children during this 30-year career at the PIFSS.

It included three apartments for his daughters worth a combined $12 million in an upmarket 42-storey residential block in Los Angeles known as The Century with views down to the Pacific Ocean. He also bought an apartment in St Moritz, the glamorous Swiss sky resort, for his children for $6.45m, according to the documents.

One of his daughters, Fajer Fahad, who works in the fashion industry, shuttles between Paris, Dubai and Los Angeles, and details her international jet-set lifestyle at luxury hotels and resorts on her Instagram account.

A judge ruled this month that there was a “substantial discrepancy” between the missing assets and the sums that Mr Al Rajaan had declared.

The apartment was added too the list of frozen assets and cannot be sold without the permission of a UK court. Its value is estimated to have increased significantly with small three-bedroom properties in the prestigious block currently on the market for £7.25m.

Mr Rajaan, whose lawyers said he was being treated last year for a serious health condition, and his wife are, however, allowed to live there.

The apartment is in the heart of Knightsbridge close to the upmarket Harrods department store. staff are posted at the doors to prevent unwelcome visitors entering the marble-paved lobby that has a views across the pristine grounds flanked by luxury flats.

Mr Al Rajaan denies any wrongdoing and says his vast wealth is from his wife’s inheritance, well-remunerated corporate roles and smart investments. “I have been very successful in this regard,” he said in a witness statement.

He has claimed that the allegations against him were “politically motivated and groundless” and senior cabinet ministers in Kuwait knew he was receiving money from overseas investment companies.

He had to hand in his passport while the Gulf state pursued his extradition. He then applied for asylum in the UK, the country’s High Court heard in April.

Lawyers told The National that he could not be extradited until his asylum case has been resolved. Lawyers for Mr Rajaan did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr Al Rajaan and his wife face continuing legal woes in Switzerland and in the UK where they are being sued by PIFSS along with 35 other defendants for the return of their money in a huge and sprawling fraud case that was due to be heard this year.

They fought unsuccessfully for three years from 2011 to stop their assets from being frozen in Switzerland after prosecutors opened an inquiry into Mr Al Rajaan and the private banks accused of laundering dirty money.

Mr Al Rajaan has been in England for “quite a considerable period of time since 2014” and had been forced to temporarily hand over his passport while being pursued for extradition by Kuwait, according to a lawyer for a co-defendant.

“The extradition ended up with him … applying for asylum here,” said Philip Marshall, the barrister. “We still had very positive evidence of him being in England in March 2019.”

An extradition agreement between the two countries came into force in March this year, which could make it easier for Mr Al Rajaan to be forced to return to his home country.

“Kuwaitis will no longer see embezzlers of public funds roaming the streets of London and Britain,” the speaker of Kuwait’s parliament, Marzouq Al Ganem, was quoted as saying by the Kuwait News Service in 2017.

The opposition Labour party raised his case in the UK’s upper house the following year because of concerns about human rights abuses in Kuwait. The government declined to comment on “individual cases”.

Extradition could have happened before the new agreement on a one-off basis, said Alison Riley, a former international crime prosecutor and extradition expert at law firm Kingsley Napley.

She said the agreement “potentially makes it easier” to secure Mr Al Rajaan’s return by restarting the extradition process.

The Kuwaiti embassy and lawyers for PIFSS declined to comment. The office of Kuwait’s Attorney-General, who has headed efforts to extradite Mr Al Rajaan, could not be reached for comment.

Updated: June 26, 2020 09:36 PM

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