Neil Moffitt, the British born nightclub mogul, who had formerly been touted as one of the most powerful and wealthy men in the American entertainment business, has quit his post as head of the Hakkasan hospitality group.
Insiders say the sudden departure, announced Easter Monday after five years in the job and in the middle of a continuing major expansion drive by the group, was prompted by a growing “panic” at the Abu Dhabi owned company, which is desperate to get away from questions over its ties to Aabar former boss Khadem Al Qubaisi and Malaysia’s 1MDB.
Moffitt leaves the company’s 2015-16 accounts unfiled and overdue, despite advertised negotiations to merge the group with another nightclub business SBE, controlled by Los Angeles ‘King of the Night’, Sam Nazarian.
Sarawak Report has repeatedly challenged Hakkasan to explain the sources of its $566 million shareholder investment, given that Khadem Al Qubaisi was the owner of the enterprise and Chairman of the group, until he was incarcerated in Abu Dhabi over at least half a billion dollars he received in backhanders from Malaysia’s development fund.
The sovereign fund Aabar is believed to have lost at least $50 billion during Al Qubaisi’s ‘KAQ’ tenure as Chairman and is also registered as having invested at least $27 million in loans to his private Hakkasan venture.
Ups and downs for Moffitt
The Hakkassan story reflects a roller-coaster career for Moffitt, who was known as a struggling events manager in the wake of the crash in Las Vegas before he linked up with KAQ, who had just purchased the UK based Chinese restaurant business Hakkasan. KAQ was an habitual nightclub addict and identified himself by flaunting cash together with his new friend and business partner Jho Low, who had also made it rich from 1MDB.
They were befriended by Moffitt, insider have told Sarawak Report, who explained how the entertainment industry was an excellent way to channel money. Hakkasan soon became famous for is extravagant business model, hiring ‘Super-DJs’ (many of them old pals of Moffitts) for up to half a million dollars a night.
Together the duo undertook a rapid and unusual expansion of the business after 2012, following KAQ’s hundred million dollar backhanders paid from 1MDB, through the Jho Low controlled company Blackstone Asia Real Estate Partners. Hakkasan now promotes itself as a ‘global hospitality brand’ comprising nightclubs, restaurants and resort hotels across America, the Middle East, South America and Asia:
“the company’s portfolio, which in 2017 is scheduled to grow from 60 to 72 venues across 4 continents with forthcoming openings in Waikiki, Jakarta, Bali, Mexico and Saudi Arabia…” [Hakkasan announcement April 17th]
Moffitt personally appeared to hit the jackpot when the Hakkasan group announced it had bought out his events company Angel Management for a rumoured $100 million in early 2014. The amount cannot be verified, since the purchase did not appear on the company’s accounts.
The same year Moffitt fronted various property purchases by KAQ, including two Beverley Hills mansions and a New York penthouse and he was rated in 2015 by Rolling Stone as one of the Entertainment Industry’s most powerful figures.
Moffitt himself began to acquire farms and properties, travel by private jet and has indulged a show-jumping career for his daughter. His function as a manager for KAQ’s properties was confirmed by the United States Dept Of Justice court filing during the seizure of those assets last year. Insiders say Moffitt has decided to cut free and head back to the UK having stowed his profits.
Meanwhile, Hakkasan has furiously denied that any of its investment is linked to wealth acquired from 1MDB and has claimed the business was ‘ring-fenced’. Sarawak Report has nevertheless identified clear links with Al Qubaisi’s Luxembourg bank accounts and his Vasco Trust, funded by thefts from 1MDB.
The Chairmanship of the company was last year transferred to a close associate of KAQs, Khalifa bin Butti and ownership has been transferred from Al Qubaisi’s company Tasameem Real Estate Company to another Abu Dhabi entity. Hopes are still being placed in a merger with SBC as a way of severing associations with the tainted origin of the company and the links to ‘hot money’.
Last month Sarawak Report suggested SBC would be wiser to steer clear of Moffitt and his contacts with Khadem Al Qubaisi.