KPMG business in UAE split by partner feuds and attempted coup

KPMG’s business in the UAE has been divided by infighting, with the chief executive surviving a coup attempt after two senior partners raised governance issues and were later fired.

The accounting group’s business in the Lower Gulf was thrown into turmoil last week as a group of partners planned a secret ballot to determine whether Nader Haffar, CEO of KPMG in the region since 2018, had lost their support , according to current and former insiders.

Haffar would have been fired if three-quarters of the firm’s 60 associates said they had lost faith in him, insiders said.

However, the momentum of the uprising had stalled on Friday and the vote was overturned, according to one of the people. “It looks like Nader has survived for now,” the person said.

The two senior partners who lost their jobs in the past month served on the executive committee of KPMG Lower Gulf. Insiders said they raised governance concerns over perceived conflicts of interest involving Haffar’s brother-in-law, Talal Cheikh Elard, who was appointed to the firm last October as a partner, responsible for customers and markets and member of the executive committee. A third senior partner was also fired, further shocking the company.

The three did not respond to requests for comment.

KPMG Lower Gulf works for clients such as Dubai World, an investment firm that acts in the interests of the Government of Dubai, and Majid Al Futtaim Group, an Emirati real estate and business conglomerate. He also advises sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company and Abu Dhabi’s national oil company, people at the firm said.

Haffar is described by current and former KPMG insiders as having a “volatile” temper and has a history of conflict with colleagues in his previous roles at KPMG Saudi Arabia and Deloitte.

Internal documents and emails reviewed by the Financial Times also highlighted similar concerns raised by some KPMG employees about the CEO.

“While we are unable to comment further on the specific matter raised, we take any allegation of this nature extremely seriously,” KPMG International and KPMG Lower Gulf said in identical statements. “We encourage all colleagues to speak up if they see or hear something they consider inappropriate, and to take appropriate action.”

Nader Haffar and Talal Cheikh Elard did not respond to requests for comment made through KPMG.

The turbulence within KPMG Lower Gulf, which operates across the United Arab Emirates and Oman, will also shine a spotlight on the international arm of the Big Four firm, which prides itself on promoting a common set of values ​​and standards across its global network. of member firms that collectively employ more than 236,000 people.

While some Big Four companies have moved to centralize control of their operations in the region, partners at rivals have said KPMG’s operations in the Gulf are more fragmented. One said KPMG’s business in the Middle East consists of “fiefdoms controlled by individual partners.” Another described it as “a disastrous collection of individual companies fighting over each other”.

The upheaval comes shortly after it emerged that one of KPMG Lower Gulf’s highest earners, Ashish Kandelwal, head of transaction advisory, was set to join a Big Four rival firm. His departure would be a great loss as he was responsible for one of KPMG’s most lucrative accounts with Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund ADQ. Kandelwal did not respond to requests for comment.

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