LONDON- A London court ruled on Thursday the founder of collapsed Dubai-based private equity company Abraaj Group could be extradited to the United States, where he is wanted on fraud charges, but said the government should make the final decision.
U.S. prosecutors allege Arif Naqvi, a Pakistani businessman, is the architect of a plot to defraud investors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Lawyers for Naqvi, who has denied the allegations through a public relations firm, have said he could face 291 years in jail if convicted in the United States.
In her written judgement, Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot ruled there were no bars to extradition under several articles of Britain's 2003 Extradition Act.
But for human rights considerations, the judge said she would refer the case to the British government for a decision on whether Naqvi should be extradited.
Dubai-based Abraaj was the largest buyout fund in the Middle East and North Africa until its collapse in 2018, after investors raised concerns about the management of its $1 billion healthcare fund.
The decision follows a ruling by an English judge this month that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States to face criminal charges, including breaking a spying law. The ruling said Assange's mental health problems meant he would be at risk of suicide.
Naqvi's lawyers also argued he was a suicide risk, suffering from severe depression and showing signs of psychotic episodes.
Naqvi's defence team did not immediately respond to a question on whether it planned to appeal the ruling.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleges Naqvi and his firm raised money for the Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund, collecting more than $100 million over three years from U.S.-based charitable organizations and other U.S. investors.
According to the SEC's complaint, Naqvi misappropriated money from the health fund and commingled it with corporate funds of Abraaj Investment Management and its parent company, and used them for purposes unrelated to the health fund.
Naqvi was arrested in the United Kingdom in 2019 and was released from custody on bail the same year.
(Reporting by Tom Arnold. Editing by Kirstin Ridley and Mark Potter) ((email@example.com; +44 (0) 207 513 5666;))