A scammer impersonates the Mansour family to trade fake equity on Airbnb

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

Kenna Bettencourt | AFP | Getty Images

When prosecutors announced on legal transaction late last week of Shamoon Rafiq, who ran a $10 million scheme that tricked investors into buying into pre-IPO tech companies like Airbnbthem said the defendant had disguised himself as a representative of a prominent family office.

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

Rafiq had no relationship with Man Capital or the 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 largest General Motors dealers and major Caterpillar distributor.

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

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

US prosecutors said Rafiq, who was previously convicted in 2001 of a similar crime, ran a “brazen scheme” from Singapore in 2020 defrauding US investors at a time when technology IPOs were hitting the market in record levels and peak ratings.

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

Mohammed Mansour, president of Mansour Group, poses for a photo after an interview with Bloomberg Television in London, United Kingdom, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016.

Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

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

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

The title and job title of Lutfi Mansoor also matches the title and job title of Unidentified Victim-1 in the complaint. The Mansoor family opened their family office to the public in 2020 and revealed its stakes in Airbnb and other tech companies.

Rafiq began methodically pitching to boutique investment banks and institutional investors in 2020, a year that saw blockbuster IPOs from tech companies including Snowflake, Unity software and DoorDash, in addition to Airbnb. Rafiq claimed to have access to pre-IPO shares of companies, a potentially lucrative opportunity given how many shares could go public.

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 claimed to be a close friend of the family office’s CEO and offered to sell Airbnb Series C shares worth $9 million. The shares did not exist.

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

Airbnb eventually held its IPO in December and saw a 112% increase on opening day.

The prosecutors announced first charges of securities fraud, wire fraud and identity theft against Rafiq in 2021.. He had committed much the same crime two decades earlier when he was convicted of trying to sell pre-IPO shares of Google. Â

The Inner City Press, a news outlet that covers New York’s Southern District, reported for the first time that Rafiq was detained in January following his extradition from Singapore.

“Shamoun Rafiq took advantage of investors’ fear of missing out on the potential profits that could be earned by investing in companies before they went public and solicited millions of dollars from investors through blatant lies and fraud,” U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in statement at the time of billing in 2021.

The bank froze $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 being informed, according to the complaint.

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