A Kuwaiti businessman linked to Citigroup and charged in the United States with fraud committed suicide Sunday, a security official said.
Hazem al-Braikan was found dead in his bed with a gunshot wound to the head and a handgun at his side, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he did not have the full details.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged al-Braikan last week with scheming to make millions by manipulating the stock of certain U.S. companies. The SEC said it was freezing more than $5 million in profits believed to have been made off the questionable deals by al-Braikan and three companies with whom he is associated.
Al-Braikan was CEO of Al-Raya Investment which is 10-percent owned by the New York-based Citigroup.
The SEC says al-Braikan's company as well as two other companies — the United Gulf Bank and KIPCO Asset Management— traded shares based on two phony announcements. One announcement faxed to media outlets July 19 and subsequently reported on the Internet the following day stated that a Middle Eastern investment group made an offer to acquire Stamford, Connecticut-based electronic systems maker Harman International Industries Inc.
Harman was forced to issue a statement last Monday denying it had been approached by a mysterious Gulf investor known as the Arabian Peninsula Group following a number of media reports. The company's shares tumbled sharply once the hoax was revealed.
In April, rumors and a report in a Kuwaiti newspaper that a consortium of Middle East companies was offering to buy Textron sent shares of the Providence, Rhode Island company soaring more than 50% in a single day. No deal for the manufacturer of Bell helicopters, Cessna jets and turf-maintenance equipment emerged, and shares plunged a few days later.
The SEC said al-Braikan and the others "amassed positions in the one or both of the securities of the companies shortly before the bogus offers were publicized." They then sold their securities at "prices inflated by the false information to reap their illicit profits."
In an statement published in Kuwait's Alrai daily Sunday, Al-Raya Investment denied the fraud allegations and said it had full confidence in al-Braikan.
KIPCO Asset Management attempted to distance itself from the SEC probe over the weekend, saying in a statement that the deals under investigation were carried out on behalf of a client in the "normal course of business."
The Kuwait-based company said it "had or has no proprietary investment or any interest in the related shares and thus has not benefited and has not gained from the reported trades."
United Gulf Bank, a Bahrain-based investment bank also named in the complaint, issued a similar statement linking the transactions to "specific instructions of their client." Like KIPCO Asset Management, in which it holds a controlling stake, the company said it did not benefit from the trades.
"Everybody is shocked," said Shiny Rajan, a secretary at Al-Raya who worked closely with al-Braikan. Speaking of his suicide, she told The Associated Press: "We can't accept it. We celebrated his 36th birthday last week."
AP Business Writer Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.