May 20, 2018 / 2:44 PM / a month ago

Under-pressure Abraaj breaches debt covenants: sources

DUBAI (Reuters) - Abraaj, the Middle East’s largest private equity house, is in violation of conditions relating to a portion of its debt, said six banking sources, adding to the pressure on a group locked in a dispute with investors.

FILE PHOTO: Arif Naqvi, Founder and Group Chief Executive of Abraaj Group attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Banks are still keen to support Abraaj but are worried about the outcome of an investigation into the firm’s alleged misuse of investor money and any related regulatory action, including possible fines, some of the sources said.

Abraaj has denied any wrongdoing.

The sources said Abraaj was in technical breach of certain financial covenants relating to bilateral debt owed to some United Arab Emirates-based banks.

Three of the sources said Mashreq MASB.DU was one of the banks involved.

Mashreq was not immediately available to comment. Dubai-based Abraaj declined to comment.

The sources said although creditors were primarily concerned about the company’s adherence with the conditions of the loans, ultimately questions could arise about its ability to repay its debt.

The firm is facing an investigation by four investors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and International Finance Corp, a member of the World Bank Group, over use of some of their money in a $1 billion healthcare fund.

Bankers said the expected sale of a stake in its fund management unit and its Pakistan utility K-Electric would help ease cashflow pressures, therefore banks are unlikely to make provisions against the debt in technical breach.

Abraaj agreed in October 2016 to sell its 66.4 percent shareholding in K-Electric to the Shanghai Electric Power Company but the deal has been held up.

Separate sources say the main reason for the delay is because K-Electric is pushing for a higher electricity tariff compared to the lower-than-expected tariff approved by the Pakistan power regulator.

Two to three potential buyers are in talks to bid for Abraaj Investment, including Los Angeles-based Colony Northstar, Reuters reported on Friday. Colony Northstar and Abraaj have declined comment.

The potential sale comes amid calls from investors for founder Arif Naqvi to further scale back his involvement in the group.

Editing by Ghaida Ghantous/Keith Weir

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