BR Shetty: From the sublime to the ridiculous

By Syed Qamar Hasan

Abu Dhabi: Trending relentlessly in global and social media are reports about the unceremonious exit and loss of face in the corporate business world of an Indian NRI businessman based in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on alleged charges of financial irregularities and fraud amounting to stupendous $6 billion and more as further probes reveal more fraud.

BR Shetty and his NMC

The man and his company, Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty, New Medical Centre ( NMC) that propelled him to fame, name and finally to shame, were as iconic to the desert country, as were its’ high-rise buildings, swanky shopping malls and golden beaches. His NMC hospital building was a landmark in Abu Dhabi

Since the scandal accidentally surfaced last year on August 6th by a teaser from Carson Block, the founder of Muddy Waters, a finance detective firm looking into fraudulent accounting practices more new frauds are being discovered each day involving all his companies and CEOs. As more mud is heaped on him it looks difficult for Shetty, to get rid of the slime and mud. Insiders in the UAE says his days in Gulf are over, despite face-saving the statement being made by him and carried by a section of the press still friendly to him having enjoyed his hospitality in days when he was flying high.

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His blue chips companies NMC and Finablr, which is holding company for UAE X Change Centre have been blacklisted and removed from London Stock Exchange. The Central Bank of UAE, has on complaints Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank(ADCB) which suffers the largest exposure of $960 million, followed by Dubai Islamic Bank $541 million, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank $323 million. In addition to foreign banks, Standard Charter and Barclays have also substantial exposures of $520 and $146 respectively.

UAE authorities seal all his business

The UAE authorities sealed all his businesses, offices, and bank accounts and those of his family members. The Forbes listed billionaire has lost his empire in a matter a few months But is not turned into a pauper. According to reports the man has a lot more stashed away safely in real estate in India and Europe. And as one UAE senior banker told this writer, “that all Nri Indian businessmen play safe laying their financial burdens at our doors.”

Uncrowned King of Hospital Industry

Popularly known to the Gulf Arabs and millions of NRI Indians as Shetty Saab, his friends including the writer called him B.R or Raghu Bhai, was the uncrowned king of the hospital industry in the region providing one of the best, yet affordable healthcare services through his New Medical Centre Hospital(NMC) to thousands and thousands of people. The UAE had a health care system based on mandatory yearly Health Cards issued by the Ministry of Health at a cost dh300/(current rate Irs 6000/) generally paid for by the employer. But the holder of the card, however, did not have direct access to specialty hospitals and would be recommended to by local clinics taking days and sometimes weeks. NMC would be providing quick service with easy access to hospital treatment, and hence had become a household name among the Asian, Arab expatriates, and even Emiratis. Today the card system is replaced with health insurance cards that are acceptable in several hundred big and small hospitals that have come up since.

Shetty’s success story is amazing, but not a fairy tale as some section of the media presents it to be. Despite the riches he earned and had at his disposal he was never a womanizer or fast track operator squandering money in night clubs and casinos. Luck, hard work, dedication, humbleness, and humility were his success mantras. The story of his starting business with $ 8 in 1974 and owning private jet and fleet of Rolls Royces as he faces closure are nothing but spin and yarn. He did have a fleet of Mercedes, the cars are registered under various companies as per the UAE Motor Vehicle Rules. And not all of his Mercedes are top of the range. He always found himself in the right place right time. During the first Gulf War B.R’s Foodland a five-star eatery and catering company won a deal to supply food packets to the US and allied soldiers stationed in Kuwait and the region earning millions of dollars in cash.” We would be stuffing the dollar bills in gunny bags, as all payments were made in cash,” he once told me.

How he started his life in Dubai

Starting in 1974, he set up the NMC with the help of his wife Dr. ChandraKumari and making use of his business contacts from his medical representative years  Shetty took to a good start and within a span of 40 years he was running the best private healthcare operations in the country, employing several hundred related staff mostly Indians with most advanced medical types of equipment. As the sun sets on his empire it would be unjust and biased not to give him the credit of possessing some every outstanding human values.

He is the pinnacle of glory to ruling family of Abu Dhabi

B.R reached the pinnacle of glory, fame and riches and close proximity to the ruling family of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, diplomatic corps, and the common man by his humbleness. During the period of 35 years that I knew the man never, saw him angry, cursing, swearing and shouting at his staff or others. He had always that wide smile and hands folded, a slight bend of the head towards the right or left, so famous that a clip of him is making rounds on the social media where he is in his typical style  assuring  Prime Minister Modi, sitting among the audience in of his services and that ‘he would even get tigers milk if Modi jee ordered.’

Shetty himself confesses that he was so short of money in those early days of his sojourn in Abu Dhabi, that when had to change his one-room sharing accommodation he had to carry his cot and belongings himself as he could not hire help.

Egregious exit

 His one weakness was media and like his peers, BR would never miss an opportunity to see himself either in word or spectacle. Ironically the man is now all over the global press but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. BR did not deserve such an egregious exit. He was more a victim of a rat race and nobody wins a rat race. The oil-rich Gulf states have become racing grounds for global businessmen who landed here in the early seventies and the eighties and making good of liberal banking laws that did not insulate against frauds and manipulation. As compared to the old lot of  Sindhi traders who set up small trading businesses when the region had not yet discovered oil and its luxurious fallouts and no advanced monetary and financial institutions. So the early businesses did not rush into unsafe risky territories piggy riding banks instead built their businesses in step with the country’s development and had built a lot of trust and good faith with the rulers and local sheiks.

Shetty’s office situated on the mezzanine the floor of a high rise next to his NMC hospital 21-floor tower is all loaded with trophies, awards and honorary degrees, but missing is his graduate degree in pharmacy which claims he had qualified for before landing in Abu Dhabi. BR also excels in keeping secrets and insulating parts of life that may prove harmful to his ambitions. during all this time he never ever gave the slightest hint that he was a stalwart of the RSS and BJP, though several doubts and accusations were cast against him by Muslim and secular Indian expatriates about his involvement in Shilanyas.

It’s only now that BJP is sailing smooth and strong in India that BR has shown his Bhajpa colors, again this could be a deterrent for him to return and salvage his shattered businesses..

He loves to be addressed in the press as Dr. Shetty, the Middlesex University in Dubai honored him with Doctorate and besides, he proudly displays testimonial from the famed Harvard University of a sandwich course he did.

Again lady luck was kind to him that during a crisis between parents and Abu Dhabi Indian School authorities which is managed by the Indian embassy the then Indian Ambassador Ranjit Sethi on recommendation appointed him chairman of the school board.

The 75 years old Shetty has active interest though he hardly plays any sport. He holds a high ranking position in the Abu Dhabi Cricket Control Board. And one time in early 2006 Shetty had floated the idea of holding Sheikh Zayed Gold Cup Cricket tourney and had got a lot of publicity done for it in the local and home press in India and Pakistan, but BCCI Chairman Shri Sarad Pawar threw a spanner and the tourney was called off upsetting the youngsters in the ruling family, which also was a benchmark in Shetty’s downward journey. Had the tourney got off it would have become a money earning machine for years. 

What got him busted and ruined his vast business

.What got him busted and ruined his vast business which he started from Zilch? B.R  troubles according to insiders, his peers, and old loyal staff from his home town was the induction of executives from Europe and bringing in new hands displacing the old and trusted officials. His children are also to be blamed say sone old hands his son Binay was not trained experienced and was inducted as CEO.

But as the wit said, ‘at times troubles are self-inflicted, like the silkworm that dies of its own wealth,’ .B R lost to the ruthless world of corporate business —end.

(Syed Qamar Hasan has worked and lived in the Arab Gulf for over three decades. He was the Abu Dhabi Bureau Chief for Gulf News, Khaleej Times, Emirates Today. Knows many of the leading Indian businessmen having very close friendly relations with many NRI business tycoons.  B.R  is a personal friend for over 25 years well known to him)

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