Hacking Victim Granted £21m Worldwide Freezing Order Against the UAE Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah Sovereign Wealth Fund

Burlingtons Legal LLP, on behalf of its client, Farhad Azima, an aviation executive and citizen of the United States of America, has succeeded in securing a global freezing order against Ras Al Khaimah sovereign wealth fund, RAKIA, in the English High Court. On 25 June 2024 the High Court in London granted American aviation businessman, Farhad Azima, the continuation of a worldwide freezing order against Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (“RAKIA”) who are the sovereign wealth fund of Ras Al Khaimah, an Emirate of the UAE.

Mr Azima alleged in court that he was hacked by RAKIA and their solicitors Dechert LLP, the international law firm. Dechert recently settled with Mr Azima and agreed to pay him multimillion pound damages, but Mr Azima has had to pursue worldwide enforcement proceedings against the sovereign wealth fund in an attempt to recover approximately £21m owed in unsatisfied High Court judgments.

Mr Justice Michael Green, sitting in private, granted the initial worldwide freezing injunction against RAKIA, commenting that the fund had “behaved dishonestly and fraudulently, obtaining judgments from this court by fraud and mounting a full scale operation to hack Mr Azima’s private and confidential information.”

Mr Justice Michael Green also observed that RAKIA’s “behaviour throughout the case has been shown to be dishonest and since it has backed out of the proceedings it has failed to pay any of the orders made against it, despite it saying that it will ensure that any judgments entered against it are satisfied.”

RAKIA’s non-compliance with numerous English Court orders comes at a time when Ras Al Khaimah continues to promote itself as a safe destination for tourists and for international investment, with tours of France and Italy, as well as the promotion of Wynn Resorts’ Wynn Al Marjan Island project in Ras Al Khaimah.

Mr Azima’s application for a freezing order arises from recent asset dissipation, including the purported sale on 30 May 2024 of the Marriott Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace Hotel in Tbilisi, Georgia, which for over 15 years was owned by Ras Al Khaimah Georgia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of RAKIA.

But recently the hotel was apparently sold for approximately $45 million to Tbilisi Hotel Holdings LLC – a newly incorporated company that has the “same directors as RAKIA Georgia, [and] appears to be owned by a Ras Al Khaimah entity”. The transfer document was “signed by the same person on behalf of both the purchaser and the seller”.

The Court has been supportive of Mr Azima’s attempts to prevent further dissipation of assets by RAKIA, noting that it “appears that RAKIA is taking steps to make itself judgment-proof.” The global freezing order granted by Mr Justice Michael Green was today extended indefinitely (or until the £21m owed to Mr Azima is satisfied), requiring RAKIA not to remove, dispose of, deal with, or diminish the value of any assets in England and Wales, or outside it, up to the value of £21m.

Going beyond the scope of typical freezing orders, the Order granted to Mr Azima further restricts corporate bodies directly or indirectly owned or controlled by RAKIA from disposing of, dealing with, or diminishing the value of any of their respective assets, whether in or outside England and Wales, up to the same value, therefore catching any subsidiaries who may attempt to avoid enforcement action by dissipating assets. RAKIA was also required to provide to Mr Azima a list of all its assets worldwide exceeding £50,000 in value, whether held in its own name or not.

If RAKIA or their officers, Naser Thafer Husni Al Bustami and Mohamad Sultan Al Qadi, disobey this Order, then they may be held in contempt of court, fined, have their assets seized or, for the officers, imprisoned. This also applies to anyone in the UK who knowingly assists in or permits a breach of this Order.

Dr Al Bustami is the current CEO of the RAK-owned quarrying company, Stevin Rock and a director of RAK Development LLC. He also sits on the board of a number of other companies that are ultimately owned by the Government of RAK.

Mr Al Qadi is currently a board member of the Investment & Development Office of RAK and was previously the CEO of RAK Properties. He was also the Chairman of the Founding Committees of RAK Petroleum and RAK Properties, and served as Chairman of Commercial Bank International and Emirates Post Group.

Dr Al Bustami and Mr Al Qadi signed the 22 June 2022 letter on behalf of RAKIA to the Court noting RAKIA’s withdrawal from the Azima proceedings and its apparently hollow promise to satisfy any judgment against it. Dr Al Bustami also gave evidence in the first trial for RAKIA, denying any knowledge of the hacking of Mr Azima.

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