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Unraveling the Mystery of Abraaj — Simon Clark

Unraveling the Mystery of Abraaj — Simon Clark

The Charles Mizrahi Show

Unraveling the Mystery of Abraaj — Simon Clark

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Millions of dollars went up in smoke … When governments around the world trusted private equity firm Abraaj to use their money to fight poverty, they had no idea who they were dealing with. Their lack of due diligence would cost them. And The Wall Street Journal‘s Simon Clark sits down with Charles Mizrahi to unpack this financial scheme of epic proportions to see how it all unraveled.

Topics Discussed:

  • An Introduction to Simon Clark (00:00:00)
  • Lofty Promises (00:02:55)
  • Elite Investors (00:6:14)
  • Red Flags (00:9:00)
  • Presumptuous Problem-Solvers (00:12:48)
  • Shady Behavior (00:17:00)
  • Unraveling the Mystery (00:23:29)
  • Worse Than Madoff (00:29:56)
  • Due Diligence (00:36:02) Humbling the Elite
  • To Be Continued (00:40:27)

Guest Bio:

Simon Clark is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and author. He currently reports for The Wall Street Journal in London. His work examines the intersection of economic, political, and social spheres across the globe. Clark is widely-awarded for his journalistic work, and his latest book (below) is listed in the Economist’s Best Books of 2021.

Resources Mentioned:

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Read Transcript

SIMON CLARK: There comes a point when someone receives so much support from the elite that, if they get into trouble, it’s embarrassing for the elite. And the elite don’t want to talk about it. That has been my experience in trying to get answers out of the elite about what went wrong here.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: My guest today is Simon Clark. He is a reporter at The Wall Street Journal in London. His latest book is The Key Man: The True Story of How the Global Elite Was Duped by a Capitalist Fairy Tale

 

The Key Man is the amazing story of Arif Naqvi, the founder of Dubai-based private-equity firm Abraaj. He was the key man to the global elite, searching for impact investments to make money and do good. Bill Gates and Western governments entrusted Naqvi with hundreds of millions of dollars to make profits and end poverty.

 

In 2019, Naqvi was arrested on charges of fraud and racketeering at Heathrow Airport. A British judge has approved his extradition to the United States, and he faces up to 291 years in jail if found guilty.   

 

I recently sat down with Simon, and we talked about how Naqvi persuaded politicians into thinking he could stabilize the Middle East by providing jobs, and how the world’s financial elite fell for a scam hook, line and sinker.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Simon, thanks so much for agreeing to be on the show. I’ve been looking forward to it after reading your book. The name of the book is The Key Man: The True Story of How the Global Elite Was Duped by a Capitalist Fairytale. You did some really amazing investigative journalism here.

 

SIMON CLARK: Thanks, Charles. Good to be talking to you.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let’s start from the beginning. Did you know about this company beforehand?

 

SIMON CLARK: Yes, I’ve been reporting on this company for over a decade. But the downfall of Abraaj — the company that was managed by Arif Naqvi — started in January 2018.

 

My co-author, Will Louch, received an email from someone who would not give their name. This person said they were an employee at Abraaj, but were too afraid to say who they were. The problem was that hundreds of millions of dollars had gone missing from Abraaj.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, let me stop you there. Let’s back up for a second. So, there was this guy named Arif Naqvi. He was a poor kid who grew up in Pakistan. I don’t know if he was so poor. He comes out and makes a splash on the world stage. He’s going to raise money in a private equity firm and change the world. Take it from there.

 

SIMON CLARK: So, Arif is a very smart guy from Karachi — a big city in southern Pakistan. He’s a middle-class guy in Pakistan. He goes to university in London at the London School of Economics. Then, he works for a series of financial companies and a billionaire in Saudi Arabia, learning the tricks of the trade and buying and selling companies.

 

In the 1990s, he starts his own company in Dubai. And in 2002, he starts Abraaj in Dubai.

 

Initially, he made some very successful deals. The first company that Abraaj bought was called Aramex — which is like the FedEx of the Middle East. In 2002, it was trading on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange. And because of its big presence in the Middle East, its stock tanked on Nasdaq just after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

 

So, it’s cheap. But the company is very professional and has a good service. So, Arif takes this company private with his colleagues. They expand it, rebase it in Dubai and sell it five years later for a multiple of what they paid for. So, he was making some profitable investments.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK. So, this guy starts a private equity firm. And his tagline is: “We’re going to do good and make money in emerging markets.” But he doesn’t call them emerging markets because he finds that very disparaging. He appeals to elites who agree or feel guilty about that.

 

He says: “I’m going to change the world by providing jobs in the Middle East. I’m going to provide jobs and services in the poorest countries by buying companies and producing an outstanding return.”

 

SIMON CLARK: That’s absolutely right. So, in the years after Abraaj was founded in 2002 as a private equity firm, Arif realizes that he can present himself not only as an investor who can make money for the billionaires, banks and pension funds that invest in his funds, but he can also end poverty by investing in companies in poorer countries across Africa and South Asia. He’s saying he’s going to build these companies, create jobs and provide services that don’t exist.

 

By saying he can make money and do good, he widens his investor base. Because there’s a certain class of government-owned fund out there called a Development Finance Institution — which will put money into private equity firms in emerging markets, or “growth markets,” as Arif called them.

 

The United States has such a fund. It used to be called the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. President Trump changed the name to the U.S. Development Finance Corporation. The United Kingdom also has one of these funds called CDC.

 

Arif was raising money from these government funds — as well as from billionaires and banks. And he was going about his business, saying that he could make a fortune for himself and his investors — and end poverty at the same time.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, his message touches on something that many people in the investment community — and the government especially — were looking to do. They were looking to find someone who could actually implement this. And money starts flocking to this guy. Is that right?

 

SIMON CLARK: That is right, yes. President Obama’s government in particular started channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayers’ money into Abraaj. One of the senior executives at Abraaj was a college roommate of President Obama, too. And the U.K., French, Norwegian, German and Dutch governments were all providing Abraaj with hundreds of millions of dollars as well.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Right. But somehow, they’re closing their eyes to a couple of red flags. Things aren’t what he makes them out to be. But they’re so wrapped up with the story of doing good and wanting to believe that they get caught in this web of lies.

 

SIMON CLARK: Abraaj did capture the zeitgeist. It was a capitalist firm that said it could not only make profits but also end poverty. And that is a very seductive and convincing message. Arif gave that message every year at Davos — the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss mountains. He gave that message at Milken and World Bank conferences. And he became the poster boy for emerging markets private equity investing.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: I read about some of these deals he was doing. For example, he was building hospitals in Kenya and Nigeria, where the average person made $3 a day. How are hospitals going to be profitable in these areas? He’s selling it to these investors, and they’re sucking it up.

 

SIMON CLARK: That is absolutely correct. He was building hospitals in Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan and India. So, he raised $1 billion for a health care fund. The stated purpose of the fund was to buy and build hospitals and clinics across Africa and South Asia and provide health care services to very poor people.

 

However, the fund was for-profit. So, very poor people would have to pay for these services. A simple, important question here — that was probably glossed over — is: How are very poor people going to afford to pay for health care services they don’t have the money for?

 

So, this fund raised $1 billion because of its early investors. Bill Gates — the founder of Microsoft — was a key early investor in this fund. The Gates Foundation put in $100 million.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: As you mention in the book, Arif knows how to hire people of influence to get other people of influence. He stacks his roster with Harvard graduates and well-known politicians connected in other countries. So, it becomes a situation in which no one’s asking the hard questions because the window dressing looks picture perfect.

 

SIMON CLARK: Yeah. If you’ve got Bill Gates, the World Bank, and the British and French governments in your billion-dollar fund, that tends to give confidence to other investors. They think: “If it’s good enough for Bill Gates, it’s good enough for me.” One of the lessons of this book is that you’ve always got to do your own due diligence. You can’t rely on anyone else to do it for you.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: It seems that con men know how to tap into people’s psyches to the point where asking questions that would raise any red flags is a danger zone and impolite. It’s not nice. “How dare you ask that?” And this guy has a lot of influence. If you dare ask a question, he’ll go to the top boss of your company and have you fired. It’s absolutely staggering what a bully this man was.

 

SIMON CLARK: Yeah, that is a pattern that emerged in our reporting. So, the problems with Abraaj started in late 2017, when an anonymous whistleblower sent an email to investors just before we received our anonymous email.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: I just want to back up before you spill the beans on the second half of the book — which is much more exciting because it picks up the pace. At times, I didn’t know who to root for. As the book went on, I kept rooting for him to smack these elites in the head for thinking they knew so much.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: For example, they had meetings about how to deal with the poor and indigent in all sorts of countries. And these were billionaires sitting around the table. It reminded me of colonialism — where they would sit there and decide how to carve up Africa.

 

Where were the people [of these countries]? There was no one. They didn’t ask any questions, they just said: “This is good.” It was really presumptuous — as if they knew better. “Give us the money, we’ll give it to this guy. He’s our guy.”

 

I found it fascinating. He’s saying he’s producing 17.2% returns — which is a staggering return — giving people their money back and making amazing deals. At the same time, he says he’s curing poverty. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize you can’t just do that. It doesn’t work.

 

SIMON CLARK: Yeah, and don’t forget that he’s charging a 2% annual fee and keeping 20% of the profits. So, you’re absolutely right. This isn’t a book about one man. It’s a book about our world and how — even though many people say they want to solve problems — those problems are not getting solved.

 

As you said, one of the key takeaways from this book is that there are a lot of very rich people saying they want to end poverty. But there are no poor people in this book. Because in the conferences and meetings where these wealthy people are meeting, there are only other wealthy people.

 

This book is, in part, a story about the evolution of impact investing and ESG. In one chapter, we tell the story of how impact investing started as a formal movement. It happened in a villa in northern Italy owned by the Rockefeller Foundation.

 

And the first line of that chapter is: “The meeting to end poverty started with cocktails before dinner.” The conversations may well be about poverty, but the people having these conversations are not the poor — and neither are their lifestyles.

 

It’s great that there are wealthy people who want to have that conversation. But I don’t think that conversation is going to become real until it includes poor people. One of the conclusions in our epilogue is that if you rock up to a conference about poverty — or even the global economy — and there are no poor people there, then that ultimately has about as much integrity as a conference of men talking about gender inequality.

 

We’ve gotten to the point where we recognize that to talk about gender equality, there needs to be both genders present. But we haven’t gotten to the point yet where we recognize that if we’re going to solve poverty, then people who live on a few dollars a day need to be included in that conversation — as well as people who earn much more than that.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Right. Now, from the beginning of Arif’s business career, he preaches one thing and acts totally different. He talks about transparency, yet his business is anything but transparent. He talks about caring for all people, yet he’s a bully. He intimidates and embarrasses people. He pushes their buttons in a degrading way. And those close to him either explained it away or were too scared to say anything.

 

SIMON CLARK: Yeah, that’s all true.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, as his business career develops, he becomes bolder. He starts taking money from one fund to cover his lifestyle. He has his loyal minions transfer the money out. And as he’s doing this, he’s going out and fabricating how great a job his private equity firm is doing in getting the world out of poverty.

 

SIMON CLARK: Yeah, that’s what the evidence that we gathered in our reporting at The Wall Street Journal showed. And it’s also subsequently what the U.S. Department of Justice’s criminal indictment says.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: I remember reading your article. I think it was the summer of last year. Is that right?

 

SIMON CLARK: We broke the story in 2018, but there’s been a lot of coverage since. There was a piece in the Journal last year as well.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: I think that’s when I picked it up. This story’s really not out there. It seemed to die. Other than your book, I don’t see much of it. Am I missing something?

 

SIMON CLARK: No, not now. There was a lot of coverage when the story broke in 2018. It is a very complex story to follow for a journalist, and my colleagues and I had the best sourcing.

 

We established relationships with key people who were providing us with information. They couldn’t be very public about it because they felt there was serious risk to themselves. So, it wasn’t an easy story for other journalists to follow.  

 

It’s taken years of work. The story also unfolded across the world — from Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, London and New York. It’s a phenomenally large and complex story. And particularly for myself and my co-author — Will Louch — we’ve invested a huge amount of time and energy to stay on top of it.

 

As I’ve said, there is a criminal indictment. Six former branch executives have been criminally indicted by the United States. Two have pleaded guilty. Arif maintains his innocence. He was actually arrested in London in early 2019. And he’s appealing his extradition. The U.K. court system has ordered his extradition to the United States, but he doesn’t want to go.

 

So, that process is very protracted, complex and hard to report on. It’s hard to find information in the London courts about the current status of the case. So, it’s not an easy story to tell for journalists.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: And there are a lot of moving parts. Even the people who were involved aren’t forthcoming in saying how they were duped. It seems to be very opaque. What he does — and correct me if I’m wrong — is he moves money from one fund to the other, when it should be going back to the investors.

 

For example, if they sell a business in Fund A, the proceeds — after his management fee and percentage of profit — should go back to the partners. What does he do instead? He delays it and moves money around. What I found so fascinating is that he starts taking huge amounts of money to offshore accounts just to feather his nest.

 

SIMON CLARK: Yeah, that’s what the documents show.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, he’s moving money around. And there are so many holes — even with KPMG, which is auditing the books. He knows that, at the end of the month, they’re going to look at the month-end balance. So, he borrows money to make that last day of the month look good.

 

And then, he sends the money right back. Even if you go for a mortgage, they ask you for three months of continuous statements — not just one specific day at the end of a quarter. How does this slip through?

 

SIMON CLARK: It’s a good question, and Abraaj’s liquidators and investors would like to know answers. They’d like to know the answers so much that they are suing KPMG in the United Arab Emirates.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, he not only does that, but he also continues to take new money from new investors in order to pay out. It’s a Ponzi scheme, really.

 

SIMON CLARK: Yeah, there is definitely an element of that.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, this guy’s a mastermind. No one wants to go up against him. He is well-connected and very smart. At the same time, he is leading a group of global elites. He’s singing the tune they want to hear so badly. And it makes them suspend judgment.

 

SIMON CLARK: Absolutely. And let’s not forget that he was on the board of the UN Global Compact — which is supposed to advise the UN Secretary-General on how companies can help reach the Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty by 2030. And he’s on the board of the Interpol Foundation — which is supposed to raise money for the global police force.

 

There comes a point when someone receives so much support from the elite that, if they get into trouble, it’s embarrassing for the elite. And the elite don’t want to talk about it. That has been my experience in trying to get answers out of the elite about what went wrong here.

 

They wanted to talk about Abraaj when it was a success story, but they don’t want to talk about it now. And that includes managers of U.S. taxpayer funds and U.S. public pension funds — which are managing money belonging to teachers, judges and police officers. It has been fantastically hard to get answers out of these organizations.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK. So, before you get this email from the informant, there was one person who was really happy to get the Gates Foundation because he was able to leverage that for much more money. But unbeknownst to him, that was his downfall. Tell us about that.

 

SIMON CLARK: That’s right. There was an individual working at the Gates Foundation called Andrew Farnum. He’s managing the Gates Foundation’s investment in the Abraaj health care fund in late 2017. He notices that Abraaj keeps asking investors to send money to the fund for new investments, but he can’t see that these new investments are being made. So, he can see that the fund is accumulating money without spending it.

 

He asks Abraaj where his money is being kept. Which bank account is this money in? And the people at Abraaj don’t want to give him an answer — which I find kind of amazing. If you send hundreds of millions of dollars to an investment firm, you would assume they’d tell you where the money is. But that’s not what happened.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: What really shocks me is that they told him: “We’ll get back to you.” You don’t know where hundreds of millions of dollars are sitting?

 

SIMON CLARK: They get back to him eventually and say: “Because you’re the Gates Foundation and because of our wonderful relationship, we’re going to make an exception and answer your question. The money is in Commercial Bank of Dubai.” So, this is in September 2017.

 

Two months later, there’s a conference call for the fund and its investors. And Andrew Farnum asks again: “Can you just tell me where the money is being kept?” And there’s a pause. Then, the answer is: “It’s in Standard Bank in the Cayman Islands” — at which point the alarm bells go off in his head.

 

He said: “What do you mean it’s in Standard Bank? Two months ago, you told me the money is in Commercial Bank of Dubai. Which one is it?” And there’s a longer pause. Then, they say: “We’ll get back to you.”

 

And days later, they get back to him and say: “The money is in Commercial Bank of Dubai.” But at this point, Andrew Farnum has lost all trust in this money management firm that doesn’t know where his money is. So, he talks to other investors, and they decide this is not a good situation. They’ve got to get forensic accountants in on the case and find out what’s going on at Abraaj.

 

But before that happens, Arif Naqvi — the founder of Abraaj — calls up a senior executive at the Gates Foundation and says something along the lines of: “We’re having problems with Andrew Farnum. He’s asking us difficult questions. And we’re giving him answers, but it doesn’t seem to be enough.”

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: That was his M.O. Every time an underling would do something, he’d go right to the top of the relation and squash it from the top.

 

SIMON CLARK: Yes, this happened at the World Bank and the French fund Proparco. And in those instances, he succeeded in getting an apology out of the senior executive of the World Bank and Proparco.

 

I call this tactic an abuse of hierarchy. He’s using contacts at the tops of organizations to silence the hard work of functionaries lower down within those organizations. It’s pretty extraordinary. And it seems to have been very effective for him.

 

To the credit of the Gates Foundation, it did not work there. So, the senior executive of the Gates Foundation had the conversation with Arif. After that, he called in Andrew Farnum and said: “What’s going on here?” And Andrew said something along the lines of: “Look, it’s us that should be offended. I’m asking basic questions and not getting answers. We have a problem here.” And the senior executive supported Andrew. He said: “OK, go and find out what’s going on.”

 

And because of that institutional support, Andrew was able to get other investors to work with him and finally get answers out of Abraaj. It is extraordinary that this didn’t happen at the other investment firms where executives had identified problems. The heroes in this book are the people who are just doing their jobs. Because it seems that so many people are not actually doing their jobs.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: I couldn’t get the dates, but this had been going on for at least a decade now. Or was it even more?

 

SIMON CLARK: Yes. So, the accounting tricks at Abraaj had been used for well over a decade. But the problems kept getting bigger and bigger. Abraaj was spending more than it earned and moving money around to fill holes and plug gaps.

 

Perhaps there was an expectation that, at some point, they’d earn enough money to fill all the holes and carry on being a successful firm. But that’s not what happened. The holes got bigger and harder to fill.

 

Then, whistleblowers were contacting investors and journalists. And some of those investors started to realize through their own analysis that there was a serious problem. But it took years. The Gates Foundation was invested in Abraaj for many years before Andrew Farnum identified this problem.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: I want to read something on the back of your book.

 

Harry Markopolos was the whistleblower for Bernie Madoff. The SEC didn’t listen to him. He called this in 2000 or so — years before Madoff’s sons turned him in.

 

And what he writes about your book, The Key Man, is: “An unbelievable true tale of greed, corruption and manipulation among the world’s financial elite and how the World Bank, Bill Gates, the governments of the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden and Kuwait fell victim to the world’s largest private equity Ponzi scheme.”

 

And here’s what I think is the most chilling, he writes: “This guy makes Bernie Madoff look like a saint.” Why did he say that?

 

SIMON CLARK: Well, your traditional fraudster says that they can make money for people. So, Bernie Madoff’s clients were very wealthy people. He was saying to them: “Give me your money. I’ll invest it, make more money and give you back the profits.” The Wolf of Wall Street was making the same pitch to regular Americans: “Give me your money. I’ll make more money and give it back to you.” And then, they steal it.

 

Abraaj’s pitch was: “Give me your money, we’ll make you money and we’ll end poverty at the same time.” So, its promise was way beyond your typical financial fraudster’s pitch. This was not only appealing to the investors’ desire to be wealthy, but it was appealing to every citizen that finance could solve the world’s biggest problems.

 

So, when it turned out to be false, the betrayal was even greater. What was lost in this story was not just money but faith in the possibility that money can solve the world’s biggest problems.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: How much money are we talking about here — that he stole, mismanaged or transferred to his own account? Do you have any idea what the numbers are?

 

SIMON CLARK: So, the sum that liquidators say is still missing is about $385 million. But there was a complex accounting to how the money was being moved in and out of Abraaj. So, over the years, liquidators say $700 million was moved from Abraaj to Arif’s companies, accounts and people close to him. And $400 million was sent back to the firm. It was used like a checking account, in a way. At the end, when the firm collapsed, some of the $385 million was missing.

 

But there’s even more complexity to it than that. In early 2018, the money that was missing from the health care fund — where the U.S. government and Bill Gates were investors — was put back in that fund by Abraaj.

 

But just before that money was put back, Arif borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars from a UAE billionaire. And then he used that money to fill the health care fund.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: He seems to be the tragic figure in that. He gives Abraaj $350 million on a handshake and his money just goes up in smoke in a heartbeat.

 

SIMON CLARK: It does. There’s also $100 million of equity in Abraaj that was sold to a Swiss billionaire and an Indian billionaire — which also goes up in smoke. The issue with this loan money — the $350 million — is, because Abraaj subsequently filed for provisional liquidation less than six months later, the lender of that money wants it back. And the lender is claiming it back not just from Abraaj but also from the health care fund.

 

So, the point of this story is that while the Gates Foundation and U.S. Government were made good, there’s now a court case going on where the billionaire who loaned that money is saying to the health care fund investors: “I’d like my money back, please.” So, the finances are a mess. There are so many cross-claims, and so much money is missing. There are court cases related to Abraaj going on all over the world — where various investors are saying: “I want that money back.”

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: You and your co-author, Will, had to go through tons of material. You had a whistleblower, you were getting bits and pieces of information and these people were scared for their lives. Because you had the wealthiest people in the world involved in this embarrassing situation.

 

First of all, it’s never the first number. It’s never just the $300 million. It’s always going to be more. In these kinds of cases, the first number seems to be the starting point, and there’s always multiples of that. But let’s put all that aside. Why was I, as a reader, not feeling sympathy for the global elite?

 

And look, Arif was a bad guy. He was a nasty guy. He was cruel and a bully. I didn’t like him, his company or the way he treated the people who worked under him. They had loyalty. And they seemed like good people — most of them. Abraaj was getting people from all over the world to work in Dubai, and they were doing well. He was paying them well. And these people were really putting in the hours.

 

But towards the end of the book, why am I feeling — as the reader — that the global elite got what they deserved? I know that sounds cruel, but why do I feel that way?

 

SIMON CLARK: Because they didn’t do their due diligence.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: But is that reason enough for me to feel like: “Good for you.” I don’t know why, but I felt a little uncomfortable when I read this. I knew who the villain was and who the victims were. Maybe this is my own thing. But towards the end, I was kind of rooting for the villain to take these people because they’re so pompous and thought they knew everything. The way they treated others around them was so condescending. They suspended reality in order to make their narrative fit. That’s just my take.

 

SIMON CLARK: I never thought about that. We’ve tried very hard to write about human beings here, and Arif is human. He had a lot of ambition and aspiration. And it has turned out badly for him. He was trying hard to fulfill a dream. And it looks like he was cutting quite a lot of corners at the same time.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: I don’t think it was so much fulfilling a dream. This is just my take. You’re much closer to it. But it seemed to fulfill his dream of being a big shot.

 

SIMON CLARK: Yeah.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: The conduit was making the world a better place. But it was all him first and foremost. Because in the end, he’s moving money around and sending emails before going into a conference and talking about helping the world and feeding the poor. What kind of nut do you have to be to do that?

 

SIMON CLARK: Yes. And if that person is successful in raising billions of dollars and getting placed on the board of Interpol and the UN Global Compact, that suggests there’s a serious problem with the system that runs the world. So, perhaps that’s where your feeling is coming from at the end — that the people who supported this firm deserve to be involved in a situation that’s ended with this negative outcome.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Right, they deserve to have their knuckles rapped.

 

SIMON CLARK: The things that everyone in this book is saying they want to achieve — end poverty and improve the environment — are things that we need. But if they’re trying to solve these situations in this way, then clearly, they are not going to be successful. We all need to know that. That needs to be seen. Because these people, systems and organizations are very powerful.

 

What I have learned from reporting this story — and other stories — is that when things go wrong for large organizations, there seems to be a tendency for them to hide it, rather than face it and learn from it. And that’s why this book is so important, in my opinion. It lays out how powerful people can make mistakes, how those mistakes can be hidden and why we all need to see, understand and learn from that.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: And we need to be on the lookout for the next thing. Simon, you and Will did a great job. The book is The Key Man: The True Story of How the Global Elite Was Duped by a Capitalist Fairy Tale. This is going to make a great movie. You already have the screenplay out there, right? Someone optioned it?

 

SIMON CLARK: Yeah, we have a producer in New York who wants to make a movie out of it.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: This would be a great movie. It has so many great players in it. It has everything you need for a for a movie: financial elites, billions of dollars, intrigue, sex and scandal — the whole nine yards. Really well done. How is the book being received?

 

SIMON CLARK: It’s been very well-received. It had great reviews in the Financial Times, the Economist and other newspapers. We’re getting great feedback from readers such as yourself.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Were you or Will physically threatened when you were doing your research on this?

 

SIMON CLARK: Well, we were fellow reporters at The Wall Street Journal‘s office in London. And we’ve spent an awful lot of time together working on this for years. So, we know each other very well now.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: But were there threats to your life or well-being because of this book — or because you were prodding in places you shouldn’t have been?

 

SIMON CLARK: No, not physical threats, but lots of legal threats. It was a very complex piece of reporting. After we got the initial whistleblower — because that person wouldn’t give us their name — we couldn’t use that email. So, we had to establish contact with dozens of other sources who would tell us who they were. They shared documents with us that had evidence of wrongdoing.

 

We couldn’t have reported this story without these very brave people. And the documents we gathered for our journalism in 2018 were subsequently used by the Department of Justice to build a criminal case. The DOJ did not get the documents from us. They probably got them from the same sources as us.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: These guys had courage. They wanted to right a wrong. Once again, the name is The Key Man. Go out and get the book. It’s a great read. And if you were ever duped by anyone, you shouldn’t feel bad. Because the wealthiest, most connected people in the world were duped. It goes to show you that there’s a sucker born every minute, and two to take them. And sometimes those takers are really sharp.

 

Simon, all the success to you. Thanks so much for being on the show. I hope to have you back if this ever goes to trial and he gets extradited to the United States. The book is still in flux because it’s not over yet. Is he a free man, or is he under house arrest in the U.K.?

 

SIMON CLARK: He’s effectively under house arrest. He’s out on bail. He had to pay £15 million to get bail. He’s living in South Kensington — which is one of the finer parts of London.

 

CHARLES MIZRAHI: He’s really roughing it. Poor guy. All right. Simon, thanks so much, and all the success to you.

 

SIMON CLARK: Thank you very much, Charles. Take care.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Charles Mizrahi Show. If you’re a new listener, welcome! If you’ve been listening for a while, we’re glad to have you back. Either way, we’d love to know what you think of the show. Please leave a review if you listen on Apple Podcasts. Reviews make it easier for others to find the show. You can also see the video of the interview on The Charles Mizrahi Show channel on YouTube.

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