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Gymkhana’s owner raises funds to buy out investor with Abraaj ties

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The dining group behind some of London’s most acclaimed restaurants, including Gymkhana and Sabor, has raised funds to cover the costs of buying out a former business partner related to a controversial financier.

JKS Restaurants — which operates 21 sites across London including five Michelin-starred restaurants — will partly use the proceeds to cover the expense of buying out Ahsan Naqvi from the business earlier this year, according to three people familiar with the situation. Naqvi is the son of the founder of failed private equity firm Abraaj.

JKS also plans to expand its portfolio of restaurants and bars into more international markets, following the launch of a Riyadh outpost of Gymkhana in June and a restaurant in Dubai last month.

It has tapped a consortium of wealthy individuals, family offices and celebrities for individual investments of more than £250,000, said three people familiar with the matter. The funding round, which has raised in the region of £10mn, closed in recent weeks, two people added.

Naqvi resigned as a director of the holding company behind JKS on May 5 this year, according to filings on Companies House. On the same day, the group created a new holding company registered in London, moving its headquarters from the Cayman Islands, according to the filings.

Naqvi is also responsible for running Axil Advisers, a Mayfair-based company listed as a creditor to Abraaj’s UK entity in a 2019 filing made at Companies House, the UK corporate registry. Though he once worked as a junior analyst at Abraaj, this was not while he was involved in JKS, the restaurant group said.

He first invested in the restaurant group in 2017 aged 29, helping spur JKS’s growth. The group opened new high-end restaurants across London, including Thai casual dining chain Speedboat and Brigadiers, both of which have won loyal followings from diners and critics alike.

Abraaj was founded by Naqvi’s father, Arif Naqvi. It collapsed into liquidation in 2018 after investors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, began investigating claims that the firm had misused their money.

In 2019, the US government charged Arif Naqvi with multiple counts of fraud and money laundering. The charges included allegations that he transferred money from Abraaj accounts to friends and family. Arif Naqvi was last year fined $135mn by the Dubai financial regulator for misleading investors and is currently on £15mn bail awaiting extradition to the US.

A lawyer for Arif Naqvi said his client denied accusations of wrongdoing. Ahsan Naqvi is not accused of wrongdoing and declined to comment through a family adviser.

JKS was founded in 2008 by three siblings: Jyotin, Karam and Sunaina Sethi. The same year, the siblings opened Indian restaurant Trishna in London’s Marylebone district.

Jyotin Sethi, a former private equity executive, led the funding round, with help from Tamweel Capital, a London-based boutique advisory firm which advises on small M&A deals.

He was the architect of the funding round which partly covers the cost to buy out Ahsan Naqvi from the business earlier this year, said a person briefed on the arrangement.

“Like all founders, [Jyotin] wants to make sure he’s got the right type of arrangements, the right type of partner on board that can support the business in its next chapter,” said the person.

A spokesperson for JKS said: “There is no connection between JKS and the Abraaj Group” and added that “Arif Naqvi has never been an investor in JKS, or otherwise had any connection with the business”.

The group will also use money from the funding round to pursue further opportunities in the Middle East, as well as New York and Las Vegas, JKS said.

Last year, JKS generated revenues of just over £50mn, nearly double a year earlier when the business was still affected by pandemic trading restrictions. But the group booked a pre-tax loss of £5.1mn last year.

JKS said it has a development plan to increase revenues to £100mn over the next five years.

The group obtained its first Michelin star when Trishna received the accolade in 2012. Curry restaurant Gymkhana, tapas bar Sabor and modern British restaurant Lyle’s have since all been awarded the honour, and Kitchen Table, which has just 19 seats, is double Michelin-starred.

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