Khadem al-Qubaisi – who allegedly played a key role in the misappropriation of 1MDB funds – has claimed that he is being unfairly being made a scapegoat in the scandal and that Abu Dhabi is forcing him to turn over his personal assets.
In a phone interview with the Wall Street Journal from an Abu Dhabi prison, Qubaisi said that he steered the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), as its then-managing director, to become a key business partner of 1MDB with the full knowledge of senior UAE officials.
He alleged, however, that he is now being made a scapegoat by Abu Dhabi after the deal soured and billions of dollars vanished from the sovereign fund.
"I did this deal, but I did it on behalf of the government of Abu Dhabi. Now, they are putting everything on my back," he said.
Qubaisi further alleged that while he is yet to be interrogated by any law enforcement agencies on the 1MDB deals, UAE officers have made periodic visits to the Al Wathba prison – where he is being held – to pressure him to sign over his assets.
These assets include land and villas in UAE to Das Holding – a private company owned by his former boss Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed al Nahyan, the UAE deputy prime minister and a member of the royal family.
"If I did something wrong for this Malaysia deal, ok, they can go and take my assets, no problem. Why is a private company trying to take control of my assets?" he told WSJ.
Sheikh Mansour is the chairperson of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, which oversees all criminal cases in the emirate.
According to the US Department of Justice, Qubaisi – who also chaired IPIC subsidiary Aabar Investment – allegedly received US1.4 billion that 1MDB was supposed to send to IPIC via his offshore shell company account.
The siphoned funds were then allegedly divided between himself, fugitive businessperson Low Taek Jho and others.
Qubaisi was replaced as head of Aabar in 2015. and jailed in Abu Dhabi a year later without charges. He was indicted in the Swiss government’s probe into 1MDB.
'Forced to sign off assets'
In the WSJ interview, Qubaisi also claimed that two of his nephews, who had the power of attorney over some of his assets, have been detained until they signed over US40 million in luxury cars to Das Holding.
The newspaper also spoke to an Abu Dhabi-based lawyer involved in Qubaisi's case, who said the latter “abused and exceeded his authorities” in IPIC to achieve personal gain.
“Now he is more concerned about keeping his illegal wealth than doing the right thing, by admitting his guilt and returning the proceeds he obtained from his criminal activities,” the lawyer reportedly said.
The lawyer also dismissed Khadem's description of his prison conditions and treatment as inaccurate.
Qubaisi told WSJ during the two five-minute phone calls that his plan was to "die here in this place (prison), or get out."
According to the DOJ's civil suits, Qubaisi used US$471 million of allegedly stolen funds in a Luxembourg account to buy real estate in the United States, among others. These assets are being targeted by the DOJ.
He has not been charged with any crime in either the UAE or the US.
As WSJ reported, however, documents show that authorities are not targeting one bigger asset financed with 1MDB money – The Topaz, a 147m-long yacht worth over US$500 million.
Khadem allegedly channelled approximately US$132 million originating from 1MDB for debt payments on the yacht between 2012 and 2015.
Documents also show that the remaining loan on the boat – which is eight-floors tall and contains a swimming pool and a cinema – was fully paid off in April last year by unspecified persons.