Kardashian pal raises eyebrows brokering access to Saudi fund-WSJ

Carla DiBello has a close relationship with Saudi sovereign wealth fund chief Yasir Al-Rumayyan, sources tell WSJ.

Carla DiBello
Carla DiBello has set up a boutique consulting firm that, according to its website, specialises in making connections between the Middle East and North America [File: Bloomberg]

A close friend of the Kardashian clan has become a high-profile player in Saudi Arabia‘s investment scene, introducing companies to the kingdom’s $300bn sovereign wealth fund and raising eyebrows over her rise to the highest echelon of the Gulf country’s business scene, the Wall Street Journal reports. 

Carla DiBello is a former reality-TV producer from Sarasota, Florida with what appears to be little experience in banking or formal dealmaking. Her LinkedIn page lists her only education as a Certificate in Private Capital Markets – a three-day university course.

Sources tell the WSJ she is helping the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) negotiate a $445bn deal to purchase a majority stake in English Premiere football club Newcastle United.

DiBello arranges formal and informal meetings between foreign companies and PIF officials – a role for which she is compensated by the firm seeking investment or other actors in potential deals, often through her own firm, Sarasota-based CDB Advisory, sources tell the WSJ. 

Global executives often exercise caution around middlemen leveraging personal relationships to profit from broker deals, given the risk of falling afoul of United States or European anti-bribery laws. 

“I kind of am that voice for the people in the West coming to the East,” DiBello said in a video interview last year.

Saudi officials at PIF tell the WSJ that DiBello’s relationship with the sovereign wealth fund’s 49-year-old chief Yasir Al-Rumayyam is frustrating some PIF officials during a time when some of the fund’s investments are underperforming. 

A PIF spokesperson told the WSJ its account of DiBello’s relationship with PIF is “misrepresenting the facts”, but did not detail which facts the newspaper allegedly misreported. 

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has made the PIF a cornerstone of his efforts to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from fossil fuels by investing oil profits into new industries of the future and creating jobs for the country’s youthful, underemployed citizens. 

PIF has hallmarks of rigorous governance including an investment committee and in-house risk managers. But current and former fund officials tell the WSJ that some major decisions – on firms with which to invest, and people with whom to negotiate – are made by Al-Rumayyan or MBS, without deferring to the committee’s guidance. 

Last October, DiBello met business leaders on a megayacht that Al-Rumayyan chartered, staying aboard several days as part of a Red Sea boating event hosted by MBS, people familiar with the event told the WSJ.

Soon afterward, DiBello began telling people of her growing role as an adviser at PIF, a source told the newspaper. 

A lawyer for DiBello told the WSJ that there is no truth to the suggestion that she is able to provide foreign businesses with unprecedented access to Al-Rumayyan based on her relationship with him, describing her as “an adviser to the various corporations she introduces to the PIF, among other entities in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia”. The lawyer also said DiBello is not PIF employee and has never been paid by the fund. 

DiBello’s connection to Saudi Arabia can be traced back more than two decades to a neighbour in the gated community where she grew up, according to the WSJ. In her teens, DiBello became close with the daughter of Esam Ghazzawi, a money manager for family members of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. DiBello’s friend Anoud Ghazzawi left for Saudi Arabia shortly before the 9/11 attacks. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation documents, two of the attackers spent time at the family house while taking flight lessons.

At 21, DiBello worked as an assistant to casino magnate Steve Wynn, a job she credited as “free Harvard [University] tuition” and “the best business education I could have received” in a column in Harper’s Bazaar Arabia. After moving to Los Angeles, she worked for a movie producer and later helped produce Keeping Up with the Kardashians. 

Source: News Agencies