After a year long international investigation, former Hakkasan Group Chairman, Khadem Al-Qubaisi, has been arrested by authorities in Abu Dhabi for his alleged role with politicians, bankers, venture capitalists, and entertainers from around the world in stealing roughly $3.5 billion from the Malaysian Government. It is alleged that Al-Qubaisi is connected to missing funds from accounts belonging to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which is a Malaysian government development company that puts investment capital and taxes toward opportunities intended to stimulate the Malaysian economy. A large amount of Al-Qubaisi’s land assets have been seized by the United States Department of Justice, which may eventually include the Las Vegas nightclubs Hakkasan and Omnia as allegedly at least $10 million of the stolen funds from 1MDB were used to finance Hakkasan.
Al-Qubaisi had gotten involved in the Las Vegas nightlife industry when the local gaming industry had slowed as a result of the 2008 recession. Vegas was in need of an industry that would bring in a younger tourist demographic that was willing to spend large amounts of money, and the electronic dance music industry filled that void since it had become a commodity around the globe. Vegas had quickly become the capital of EDM where masses of twenty somethings flocked to huge dance clubs and poolside dayclubs every weekend to be impressed by the world’s best performances and productions by EDM’s highest paid artists. In recent years, Las Vegas has become the home to the majority of the top ten highest grossing nightclubs in the world, including Hakkasan which was #2 on the ‘Nightclub & Bar List’ in 2015. Al-Qubaisi had become a major part of the growth of the extravagant Vegas nightclub industry.
It has been reported that Al-Qubaisi had allegedly hired Jho Low, Jynwel Capital CEO, to divert funds from the accounts of the 1MDB, which Low has been allegedly involved with since 2009. Low has been known to be an eccentric tycoon who loves to party, so it was a perfect partnership. Besides Al-Qubaisi, Low’s fellow conspirators include Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and Red Granite Productions Chairman, Riza Aziz, who produced the Martin Scorsese film “The Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It is alleged that Al-Qubaisi had been introduced in 2010 to Low by Hakkasan Group CEO Neil Moffitt.
Moffitt is best known for being part owner of UK club brand Godskitchen. He fell into financial hardship during the economic downturn in 2009 after the closure of the Las Vegas nightclub he managed called ICE. Al-Qubaisi owned a modest Cantonese restaurant chain in the UK called Hakkasan, and decided to aggressively expand his company into one of the world’s biggest nightclubs, so he hired Moffitt as the CEO.
Suspicions arose when Moffitt’s interior designer sued him in a California court last year and it was revealed that his residence as well as other properties Moffitt had purchased around the same time had actually been paid for by Al-Qubaisi. Moffitt also confirmed that the Hakkasan Group was a company based in Abu Dhabi, not the UK. Investigation has also revealed that the Hakkasan Group is actually owned by Tasameem Real Estate LLC in the Middle East. Enough suspicion had arisen that officials from several countries began working in unison to investigate the relation between Al-Qubaisi and the 1MDB fraud. Moffitt obviously began to distance himself from Al-Qubaisi at this time. Moffit has been subpoenaed and is cooperating with investigators, but despite his connections with Al-Qubaisi, the evidence currently available does not directly involve Moffit with the misappropriation of the 1MDB funds.
The Department of Justice intensified their investigation in July and are set to seize over $1 billion in assets that they believe to have been stolen from 1MDB, which is the largest amount of assets that has ever been attempted to be seized in an international corruption case. Of the $1 billion, it is alleged that $470 million was transferred into Al-Qubaisi’s accounts. $372 million remains to be unaccounted for, and that’s even after the seizure of Al-Qubaisi’s land assets around the world, which includes the mansion he purchased for Moffitt. Of course, it is suspected that the missing $372 million very well could have been the financial backing behind Hakkasan.
All of the incriminating evidence and timing fits the findings of the investigators. Hakkasan opened in April of 2013, and the newly launched nightclub had received $266 million from Tasameem by the end of 2013. The Hakkasan Group also launched Omnia Nightclub in Las Vegas last year, which has brought the amount that the Hakkasan Group has received from Tasameem to $566 million.
Even though there appears to be strong proof that Hakkasan was built with $10 million of illegitimate capital, it may not be enough to discontinue business operations, especially if management is able to leverage company assets to cover it. But if they are unable to and investigators are able to prove that the missing $372 million did in fact finance Hakkasan as well as Omnia, then we can count on two of the world’s highest grossing nightclubs to be seized and closed (or sold off to a new owner).