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Engineering-6
Credit: Luke Yeagley

An Indian real estate investment company co-founded by a Penn graduate and School of Engineering and Applied Science board member Anurag Bhargava has been accused of defrauding foreign investors of at least $147 million, according to The Washington Post

IREO, which the 1989 Wharton and Engineering graduate co-founded, has allegedly “illegally [siphoned] off” close to $150 million of invested money. IREO was founded in 2004 to attract foreign investment in the Indian real estate market, and has become one of the most successful real estate private equity firms in India.

A criminal complaint — filed by “two global investment companies based in New York and London that have invested nearly $300 million” in IREO — named Bhargava as a perpetrator of “large-scale fraud.”

The company is also known for its 2016 partnership with the Trump Organization to build a Trump-branded office tower in India.

In 2016, a press release announcing the collaboration between IREO and the Trump Organization reported that IREO had garnered nearly $2 billion of investments in the Indian real estate sector.

At the time, Donald Trump Jr. said that IREO was “truly a fantastic group” and that the Trump Organization was “looking forward to pushing boundaries” with IREO.

The Trump Organization has yet to comment on the criminal complaint against IREO’s founders. Penn has also yet to make an official statement on the matter. 

In addition to being a board member of the Engineering School, Bhargava and his company has made other connections with the university. 

In 2010, Bhargava spoke on a panel of Indian investment experts at the 14th Wharton India Economic Forum held in Philadelphia. 

Steven Wisch, who worked with Bhargava at IREO, was interviewed one year later in 2011 at the 15th Wharton India Economic Forum. He said that when he met Bhargava in the early 2000s, there were “no foreigners doing real estate in India,” but the returns that developers were getting at the time “were just tremendous,” which spurred the success of IREO.

Wisch said that IREO “wanted to be in control of [its] own processes: aggregating land, getting the approvals, doing the design, planning, construction, marketing and selling,” which set it apart from other real estate investment companies at the time.

Bhargava previously served on the board of directors of the United States-India Business Council and worked as a “principal and head of private equity for MSD Capital,” the private investment firm for Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell Technologies, before co-founding IREO.

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