Fraudster impersonated Mansour family to peddle fake Airbnb equity

Technology

The Airbnb logo is displayed on the Nasdaq digital billboard in Times Square in New York on Dec. 10, 2020.

Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images

When prosecutors announced the plea deal late last week of Shamoon Rafiq, who ran a $10 million scheme that duped investors into buying into pre-IPO tech companies such as Airbnb, they said the defendant was masquerading as a representative of a prominent family office.

The family office is not named in the complaint, but details from court filings and online records match those of Man Capital, the family office of the Mansour family. Man Capital was started in 2010 by billionaire Mohamed Mansour, one of three brothers behind Egypt’s second-largest company, and his son, Loutfy Mansour. 

Rafiq had no connection to Man Capital or parent company Mansour Group. The conglomerate was founded in 1952 as a cotton exporter and has since grown to become one of the world’s biggest General Motors dealers and a major Caterpillar distributor.

A spokesman for Man Capital declined to comment to CNBC, as did the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Rafiq.

Rafiq, 50, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud. He faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison.

The U.S. attorney’s office said Rafiq, who was previously convicted in 2001 for a similar crime, ran a “brazen scheme” from Singapore in 2020, defrauding U.S. investors at a time when tech IPOs were hitting the market at record levels and peak valuations.

In the summer of that year, Rafiq allegedly created fake domain names and email addresses masquerading as a senior executive at the family office. 

Mohamed Mansour, president of Mansour Group, poses for a photograph following a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K., on Feb. 11, 2016.

Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Prosecutors say Rafiq pretended to be a close associate of the CEO of the family office, who was described as Victim-1, and impersonated another family office executive, identified as Victim-2.

CNBC was able to identify Man Capital as the unnamed family office through a series of details in the prosecutor’s complaint, including partial domain names and website details that exactly matched Man’s online presence.

Loutfy Mansour’s title and tenure also match the title and tenure of the unidentified Victim-1 in the complaint. The Mansour family publicly launched its family office in 2020, and disclosed its stakes in Airbnb and other technology companies.

Rafiq began methodically pitching boutique investment banks and institutional investors in 2020, a year that featured blockbuster IPOs from tech companies including Snowflake, Unity Software and DoorDash, in addition to Airbnb. Rafiq was claiming he had access to shares of pre-IPO companies, a potentially lucrative opportunity given how much stocks could pop when they hit the public market.

In July 2020, an unnamed boutique investment bank in New York was introduced to Rafiq through another business associate of a partner at the bank. Rafiq purported to be a close friend of the family office’s CEO, and was offering to sell $9 million worth of Airbnb Series C shares. The shares didn’t exist.

Airbnb had announced plans to go public in 2019, but the Covid pandemic delayed its debut. Shortly after Rafiq first spoke with the investment bank, in August 2020, reports surfaced of Airbnb’s plan to confidentially file for an IPO. Four days after those reports, the unnamed investment bank agreed to buy the fictitious shares and wired $9 million to an escrow account.

Airbnb ultimately held its IPO in December and saw its stock rocket 112% in its opening day.

Prosecutors first announced charges of securities fraud, wire fraud and identity theft against Rafiq in 2021. He’d committed almost the same crime two decades earlier, when he was convicted for trying to sell pre-IPO shares of Google.  

Inner City Press, a news outlet that covers the Southern District of New York, first reported that Rafiq had been detained in January, following his extradition from Singapore.

“Shamoon Rafiq exploited investors’ fear of missing out on the potential gains to be earned from investing in companies before they go public, and solicited millions of dollars from investors through brazen lies and deception,” U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement at the time of the 2021 charge.

The bank froze the $9 million in escrow funds and contacted the unnamed family office through a “trusted intermediary,” according to prosecutors. The family office’s legal counsel reported the scheme to law enforcement shortly after it was informed, according to the complaint.

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