LONGLISTED FOR THE FINANCIAL TIMES & MCKINSEY BUSINESS BOOK OF THE YEAR
ONE OF THE ECONOMIST'S BEST BOOKS OF 2021
In this compelling story of lies, greed and tarnished idealism, two Wall Street Journal reporters investigate a man who Bill Gates, Western governments, and other investors entrusted with billions of dollars to make profits and end poverty, but who now stands accused of masterminding one of the biggest, most brazen financial frauds ever.
Arif Naqvi was charismatic, inspiring, and self-made—all the qualities of a successful business leader. The founder of Abraaj, a Dubai-based private-equity firm, Naqvi was the Key Man to the global elite searching for impact investments to make money and do good. He persuaded politicians he could help stabilize the Middle East after 9/11 by providing jobs and guided executives to opportunities in cities they struggled to find on the map. Bill Gates helped him start a $1 billion fund to improve healthcare in poor countries and the UN and Interpol appointed him to boards. As Pope Francis blessed a move to harness capitalism for the good of the poor, Naqvi won the support of Obama’s administration and investors, who compared him to Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible.
In 2018, Simon Clark and Will Louch were contacted by an anonymous whistleblower who said Naqvi had swindled investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars and offered bribes to sustain his billionaire lifestyle. Digging into the claims, Clark and Louch uncovered hundreds of documents and exposed the wrongdoing. In April 2019—months after their exposé broke—Naqvi was arrested on charges of fraud and racketeering, and faces up to 291 years in jail.
Populated by a cast of larger-than-life characters and moving across Asia, Africa, Europe and America, The Key Man is the story of how the global elite was duped by a capitalist fairytale. Clark and Louch shine a light on efforts to clean up global capital flows even as opaque private equity firms amass trillions of dollars and offshore tax havens cast a veil of secrecy which prevents regulators, investors and citizens from understanding what’s really going on in the finance industry.
Wall Street Journal reporter Clark and his former colleague Louch debut with a riveting chronicle of the meteoric rise and scandalous fall of the Dubai private equity firm Abraaj and its conniving founder, Arif Naqvi. The authors write that Naqvi's obsession "with status, power, and control" was, for a long time, hidden by ostentatious philanthropy, and politicians and fellow businesspeople (among them John Kerry and Bill Gates) fell for his pitch. At its height, Abraaj managed nearly $14 billion and owned stakes in 100 companies globally, and Naqvi won an Oslo Business for Peace Award. But in 2018, Clark and Louch received an email from a whistleblower outlining Naqvi's exploits (attempting to bribe Pakistan's prime minister, for instance). They turned it into a Wall Street Journal article, and within six months Naqvi was arrested for operating a criminal organization. The authors detail how, for years, Naqvi misused his company's money to cover losses and pay for his extravagant lifestyle, which included lavish parties and a 154-foot superyacht. The narrative moves at a fast clip, and extensive interviews with former Abraaj employees strengthen the shock of Naqvi's "masterful performance." This deeply reported tale captivates.