KPMG’s business in the UAE has been torn apart by party infighting and an attempted coup

KPMG’s business in the United Arab Emirates has been torn apart by infighting, with the chief executive surviving an attempted coup after two senior partners raised concerns about management and were subsequently fired.

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

Haffar would have faced removal if three-quarters of the firm’s 60 partners had said they had lost confidence in him, insiders said.

However, the momentum for the uprising had stalled on Friday and the vote was called off, according to one of the people. “Looks like Nader survived for now,” the person said.

The two senior partners who lost their jobs in the past month sat on the executive committee of KPMG Lower Gulf. Insiders said they raised concerns with management about perceived conflicts of interest involving Haffar’s son-in-law, Talal Cheikh Ellard, who was appointed to the firm last October as a partner, head of clients and markets and a member of the executive committee. A third senior partner was also fired, sending even more shock to the firm.

The three did not respond to requests for comment.

KPMG Lower Gulf works for clients including Dubai World, an investment company that acts on behalf of the Government of Dubai, and Majid Al Futtaim Group, an Emirati real estate and retail conglomerate. It also advises state fund Mubadala Investment Company and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, people at the firm said.

Haffar has been described by current and former KPMG insiders as having a “volatile” temperament and has a history of clashing with colleagues in his previous positions 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 chief executive.

“While we are unable to comment further on the specific matter raised, we take any allegations 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 anything they consider inappropriate and take the necessary action.”

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

The roles within KPMG Lower Gulf, which operates in the UAE and Oman, will further highlight 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.

Although some Big Four firms have moved to centralize control of their businesses in the region, partners at rivals said KPMG’s Gulf business is more fragmented. One said KPMG’s Middle East business was made up of “fiefdoms controlled by individual partners”. Another described it as “a disastrous collection of individual firms arguing with each other”.

The shake-up comes shortly after it emerged that one of KPMG Lower Gulf’s top earners, Ashish Kandelwal, head of deal advisory, is set to join a rival Big Four firm. His departure would be a big loss as he was in charge of one of KPMG’s most lucrative accounts in Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, ADQ. Kandelwal did not respond to requests for comment.

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