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Investors seeking millions of dollars of refunds from delayed projects planned by Alternative Capital Invest (ACI) in Dubai fear they will never get their money back after German authorities began an investigation into allegations of fraud at the company.

ACI, which launched the biggest German investment fund for properties in the emirate in 2004, last week declared bankruptcy on four of the seven funds. The company is thought to have collected about US$272 million (Dh999m) from 6,000 investors across the funds.

Heinrich Rempe, a senior prosecutor in Bielefeld, western Germany, told The National an investigation had been launched against the company’s management for “alleged capital investment fraud and breach of trust”.

Prosecutors were investigating the founder of ACI, Hanns-Uwe Lohmann, and his son Robin, the German press reported.

Mr Lohmann Sr, who has since resigned as the company’s chief executive, denied the allegations and blamed the unfinished projects on Dubai’s property slump.

Dozens of cases against ACI – which spent millions of dollars in 2007 and 2008 marketing and selling properties in buildings endorsed by the sporting celebrities Michael Schumacher, Boris Becker and Niki Lauda – are being pursued at the Dubai Property Court, although it is unclear whether any have been successful so far.

Ron Oakeley, a British businessman, filed a case against ACI two years ago and has since attended more than 15 hearings. Mr Oakeley is trying to recover more than Dh1.2m spent on two offices at the Niki Lauda Twin Towers in Business Bay in Dubai. The court has appointed an official to check progress on the project, which appears to be at a standstill, while Mr Oakeley’s next hearing has been scheduled for September 29.

“We’ve just got to wait to see what happens,” he said. “But meanwhile … I don’t know quite how we’re going to get [the money] back.”

Valeri Babak, a Russian property buyer, invested Dh2.9bn in a number of offices at Victory Bay, a project in Business Bay. Mr Babak said he was awaiting judgment from the court, which he was “sure we will get”.

Robin Lohmann headed up ACI’s office next to Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach, although none of the 11 projects advertised on the company’s website have been completed.

The Jumeirah Beach office was recently closed, with the company moving to offices in Al Barsha, a spokesman for the company confirmed yesterday, adding Mr Lohmann was in Germany “dealing with the crisis”.

The spokesman told The National in June that a failure among investors to keep up payments was the reason the projects were on hold. He claimed most of their deposits, which were mainly collected before the escrow law was introduced in the middle of 2007, had been spent on marketing new projects.

agiuffrida@thenational.ae

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ACI Real Estate has filed for bankruptcy on four of its seven property funds, according to media reports in Germany.

The company – which launched a number of celebrity branded towers in Dubai – is understood to have declared the funds bankrupt at a court in Bielefeld, Germany.

The property funds were launched in 2004, with investors believed to have paid $75m into them. The first fund six years ago was used to develop a property in Jumeirah Lake Towers, Funds two and three were used for ACI’s City of Arabia development, and funds four and five for projects in Business Bay and Victory Bay.

Funds six and seven related to investments in the sports-branded Michael Schumacher and Nikki Lauder developments.

Payments from the funds were due in March last year, but did not materialise. Shortly after, the company’s boss Robin Lohmann told Arabian Business: “Giving money back is not an option as this point in time. The money has been invested in the land, which is fully paid for, and the money has been spent in the development, which is normal – the contractor and suppliers are not working for free.”

It is not clear whether work will now progress on a string of ACI Real Estate projects in Dubai. In 2008, the company announced plans for Michael Schumacher Business Avenue, Boris Becker Business Tower and Niki Lauda Twin Towers.

Construction on all three projects stalled last year. Its website still lists 11 projects that it says are under development, with another six being undertaken by “third party developers”.

Last year Lohmann hit back at claims that the projects were being cancelled and that investors would lose their cash, saying: “For me there is no chance I will do a hit and run. You know why? Because I haven’t even collected the money I have invested and spent here. I’m not going ahead and losing AED500m ($136.1m), it’s not the way.”

Lohmann could not be contacted for comment.

Hahn Rechtsanwälte Partnerschaft (hrp) bereitet eine erste Pilotklage gegen die Alternative Capital Invest GmbH & Co. KG (ACI), die beiden Treuhandkommanditistinnen sowie die Hamburger Finanzkontor GmbH & Co. KG vor und wird die Klage in den nächsten Tagen beim Landgericht Hamburg einreichen. Dabei macht die Ehefrau des Anlegers die Schadensersatzansprüche aus abgetretenem Recht geltend.

Ein Hamburger Kaufmann hatte sich in den Jahren 2005 und 2006 als Privatanleger auf Empfehlung seines Anlageberaters unter anderem an der Alternative Capital Invest GmbH & Co. II bzw. III. Dubai Tower KG beteiligt und ihm ist dadurch ein Schaden von etwa 245.000,00 EUR entstanden. Nach Auffassung von hrp hat sich die ACI schadensersatzpflichtig gemacht. Aufgrund der Angaben der in den Prospekten abgedruckten Gesellschaftsverträge muss der Leser zu dem Ergebnis gelangen, dass die  Fondsgesellschaften die Grundstücke in eigenem Namen halten. Dies ist in der Praxis jedoch nicht der Fall. Bei der III. Dubai Fonds Tower KG ist die sogenannte „Dubai Branch“, die als unselbständige Niederlassung der Komplementärin in Dubai eingetragen ist, als Treuhänderin für die Fondsgesellschaft Eigentümerin des Grundstücks. Das Grundstück der II. Dubai Fonds Tower KG wird weiterhin von der Verkäuferin als Eigentümerin gehalten.

Es macht aus Sicht von hrp einen großen Unterschied, ob die Fondsgesellschaft oder deren Komplementärin Eigentümerin eines Grundstücks ist. Hinzu kommt, dass die ACI Branch ohne Genehmigung der Anleger die registrierten Käufer der II. Dubai Fonds Tower KG auf die III. Dubai Tower KG übertragen hat. Dies könnte den Straftatbestand der Untreue verwirklichen. Mittlerweile hat auch die Staatsanwaltschaft Bielefeld ein Ermittlungsverfahren gegen Verantwortliche der ACI eingeleitet und am 22.06.2010 die Büroräume der ACI in Gütersloh durchsucht. In einer Presseerklärung vom 24.06.2010 teilt die Staatsanwaltschaft diesbezüglich mit, dass die gewonnenen Erkenntnisse den Verdacht des Kapitalanlagebetruges bisher nicht erhärten konnten. Eine genaue Auswertung der vorgefundenen Unterlagen bleibe insoweit abzuwarten.

Nach Auffassung von Anlegeranwalt Peter Hahn aus Hamburg wird es höchste Zeit, dass die Gesellschafter der verschiedenen ACI-Dubai-Fonds sich untereinander austauschen und zivilrechtlich durch einen Fachanwalt die Geltendmachung von Schadensersatzansprüchen prüfen lassen. „Insbesondere Anleger mit einer eintrittspflichtigen Rechtsschutzversicherung sollten sich von den Verantwortlichen der ACI nicht weiter vertrösten lassen. Wenn die Anleger weiterhin nichts unternehmen“, so Anwalt Hahn weiter, „droht eine Verjährung ihrer Schadensersatzansprüche“.

Hamburg: 30.07.2010

Lack of communication from developers coupled with trying time for sector leave investors fuming

Investors in the UAE’s real estate are a frustrated lot, but not just because the sector is in the throes of the worst-ever slowdown it has witnessed. That’s a known fact, and most investors have reconciled to it.

However, what is not known and, therefore, much more frustrating, is the status of the projects in which they have invested their hard-fought cash.

Many developers in the country have apparently chosen to not communicate with their clients about when the stalled projects are going to take off and when will they be delivered, if at all.

Property blogs and social media sites are full of frustrated investors venting their ire.

A good proportion of such investors do not reside in the country and, therefore, have to depend on communication from the developer and their websites to figure out the status of their investments.

With the websites of most developers updated on a regular basis, and not communication forthcoming from them, such investors are resorting to blogs such as www.skyscrapercity.com http://www.skyscrapercity.com to voice their anger.

“…was told last week, in an e-mail from [the developer], that handover is now March 2011. So, that will be over 4 years since I chose to invest in [the project]. I’m sure it will happen eventually but this constant re-scheduling of end dates is very frustrating,” a user who went with the skyscrapercity.com http://skyscrapercity.com ID of tonydubai wrote on July 24.

At least tonydubai seemed to have received some kind of communication from the developer. Some of the others have not been so lucky. “I invested in a project in 2007, which was supposed to be delivered in 2009,” a senior media executive told Emirates 24|7.

“Not only has the project not even taken off the ground, [the developer] has not communicated with me at all, in spite of the fact that I kept paying my instalments until end-2008,” he said.

“They refuse to entertain my emailed queries or on the phone, and despite having numerous face-to-face meetings with the company’s junior staff, I have no idea if the project will ever see the light of the day,” he shrugged.

He isn’t alone. Some investors claim that their developers are short-changing them by saddling them with a much smaller properties compared with what they originally paid for.

Some other are upset about the miscommunication and false assurances meted out to them during the sales process.

This is what user pki had to say on May 11: “I am an investor in [project] and interested in any routes to get my investment back. It is not an option to switch to another development as I need the money (or as much of it as I can get back) to pay my mortgage on my home and not upset my bank.

“Does anyone know of anyway to get the investment back?

“They forced me to sign my contract by threatening to keep my deposit (under UK law this is duress so I would be entitled to cancel and get my money back – but if course UAE law does not favour us).

“They provided me with a letter and constant assurances that they could facilitate a 70% mortgage. Of course when I mentioned this to them and sent in the proof – they ‘lost’ it. And my fault, I did not take a copy (was too stressed to think straight).

“Also the development was meant to be ready in Jan 2010, but the enabling work has only been finished now (though they told me it was complete in Jan 2009 (LIES!))

“Any advice, recommendations etc would be appreciated!”

This is certainly not good for the image of the country or its position as a preferred global investment destination.

Das Märchen vom großen Geld ist aus. Anleger haben Millionen in Dubai investiert, doch viele Fonds haben nur einen Bruchteil dessen ausgeschüttet, was sie versprochen hatten. In Deutschland steht nun der Dubai-Fondsanbieter Alternative Capital Invest, für den Sportler wie Boris Becker oder Michael Schumacher werben, im Fokus der Bielefelder Staatsanwaltschaft.

DÜSSELDURF/FRANKFURT. Niki Lauda macht den großen Boxenstopp in Dubai – und das ausgerechnet bei Alternative Capital Invest (ACI). Ob er oder andere Sportgrößen wie Boris Becker und Michael Schumacher noch einmal ihren guten Namen für diese Gesellschaft hergeben würden, ist höchst zweifelhaft. Denn für ACI, einen Anbieter von Dubai-Immobilienfonds mit Sitz in Gütersloh, interessiert sich inzwischen die Staatsanwaltschaft in Bielefeld. Sie ließ Ende Juni die Geschäftsräume von ACI durchsuchen – wegen des Verdachts auf Kapitalanlagebetrug.

Für sieben Fonds hatte ACI laut Analysehaus Feri rund 210 Mio. Euro eingesammelt. Die Zahl der Anleger beziffert ACI selbst auf mehr als 6 000. Die Firma war damit Marktführer unter den Dubai-Fonds, in die nach Angaben von Feri insgesamt rund 700 Mio. Euro investiert wurden – von schätzungsweise 20 000 Anlegern. Nicht nur die ACI-Kunden werden von ihrem Geld wohl nur einen Bruchteil wiedersehen – das zeichnet sich schon jetzt ab.

Von wenigen Ausnahmen abgesehen sind Dubai-Fonds-Anleger, wie bei geschlossenen Fonds üblich, Kommanditisten einer KG, sie haften also nur mit ihrer Einlage. Mit ihrem Geld, meist mindestens 10 000 Euro, sollten nach Abzug diverser Nebenkosten Immobilien in Dubai entstehen und mit Gewinn weiterverkauft werden. Und das auch möglichst schnell, denn das Steuerschlupfloch, das die Gewinne von der Steuer befreite, gab es nur bis Ende 2008. Gesetzesänderungen und die weltweite Immobilienkrise machten den Anlegern einen Strich durch die Rechnung. Vor allem das riskante Geschäftsmodell, angezahlte Objekte vor Fertigstellung zu einem höheren Preis weiterzuverkaufen, ging nicht auf, weil sich keine neuen Käufer fanden.

Dieses Modell verfolgte auch ACI. In dem im Juli 2007 aufgelegten Prospekt für den Fonds VII warb ACI zum Beispiel damit, dass der erste Fonds prospektgemäß aufgelöst worden sei und die Immobilien der Fonds II bis V verkauft seien. Heute gibt ACI-Chef Hanns-Uwe Lohmann zu: “Der bereits Mitte 2008 von der ACI eingeleitete Gesamtverkauf der Fonds II bis V an die Firma Yama scheiterte auch daran, dass der gesamte Immobilienmarkt in Dubai zusammenbrach.” Anlegeranwalt Hartmut Göddecke vermutet andere Gründe: “Die Grundstücke gehören offenbar nicht einmal den Fonds”, sagt Göddecke. Dies weist Lohmann zurück. Er sieht in den Angriffen lediglich den Versuch Göddeckes, weitere Mandanten für Schadensersatzprozesse gegen ACI zu gewinnen.

Lohmann legt eine Pressemitteilung der Staatsantwaltschaft Bielefeld zu seinen Gunsten aus: “Die bei der Hausdurchsuchung gewonnenen Erkenntnisse haben den Verdacht des Kapitalanlagebetrugs bisher nicht erhärten können”, heißt es darin. Seinen größten Gegenspieler, den ehemaligen Vermittler der ACI-Dubai-Fonds Rainer Regnery, wird Lohmann damit wohl kaum beeindrucken. Regnery weiß eine Interessengemeinschaft ACI-Geschädigter hinter sich, die nach seinen Worten rund 1 000 Personen umfasst.

Letztendlich wird es darum gehen, wer für die Verluste der Anleger verantwortlich ist. Denn abzuwenden ist der Schaden wohl nicht mehr. Dubai-Fonds – und nicht nur die der ACI – haben überwiegend nur einen Bruchteil dessen ausgeschüttet, was sie in Aussicht gestellt hatten. Die Gütersloher sind nicht das erste Emissionshaus für Dubai-Fonds, für das sich Strafverfolger interessieren.

Zu einem regelrechten Krimi wächst sich die Jagd nach Georg Recker aus. Der Initiator der “Dubai 1000 Fonds” wird inzwischen per internationalem Haftbefehl gesucht, die Staatsanwaltschaft Dortmund ermittelt wegen Betrugs gegen ihn und seine Ehefrau. Rund 25 Mio. Euro sammelte er allein bei etwa 1 000 deutschen Anlegern ein, versprach ihnen “steuerfreie Ausschüttungen von mindestens zehn Prozent”. Das größte Vier-Sterne-Hotel im arabischen Raum wollte Recker mit dem Fondsvolumen von rund 143 Mio. Euro bauen.

Gleich zu Hunderten empfing der Finanzwirt aus Hamm Interessenten in Dubai. Wer mit ihm vom Boom im Wüstenstaat profitieren wollte, musste mindestens 10 000 Euro auf den Tisch legen. Seine zahlreichen Kunden glaubten an die smarte Rechtsanwältin, die Recker als Kontrolleurin auf die Finger schauen sollte, sie glaubten an die betuchten Gäste, die ab Sommer 2007 in modernsten Konferenzräumen des geplanten Hotels tagen oder in einem Riesenballsaal tanzen sollten. Das Märchen aus Tausendundeiner Nacht mutierte dann zur Gruselstory. Die Anwältin ist inzwischen Reckers Ehefrau, das Hotel nur ein Loch im Wüstensand.

Niemand weiß, wo das Geld der Anleger versickert ist. Gerade einmal eine Million Euro konnten die Strafverfolger noch einfrieren. Recker lebt in Dubai, ausgeliefert werden kann er von da aus nicht. Mit den Staatsanwälten spricht er nur über seinen Anwalt. Unklar ist, ob Recker überhaupt genug Geld für das Projekt zusammenbekommen hatte. Sein Münchener Anwalt Ekkehart Heberlein, der Recker gegen Schadensersatzklagen von Anlegern vertritt, sieht jedenfalls “überhaupt keine kriminelle Energie” bei seinem Mandanten.

Der Hotel-Fonds von Recker war seinerzeit der größte und exotischste Fonds. Die meisten Fonds versuchten wie viele Privatinvestoren, mit Wohnungen reich zu werden. Oskar Edler von Schickh, Geschäftsführer der ebenfalls ins Dubai-Geschäft verstrickten Ventafonds, macht seinen und den Kunden anderer Fondshäuser wenig Hoffnung, dass dies noch gelingt. Die Mieten seien seit Ausbruch der Krise um 30 Prozent gesunken. Und in diesem Jahr kämen noch 30 000 Wohnungen auf den Markt, sagt von Schickh, was nicht für steigende Mieten und Preise spräche.

Steuersparmodelle

Fonds: Viele Immobilienfondsanbieter haben Produkte aufgelegt, die Vorteile aus dem Doppelbesteuerungsabkommen (DBA) ziehen sollten. Dazu zählen auch die Dubai-Fonds, die im Jahr 2005 erstmals auf den Markt kamen. Sie waren so konstruiert, dass das Besteuerungsrecht für Gewinne aus der Veräußerung von Immobilien in Dubai dem Emirat zustand. Weil laut DBA Einkünfte nicht doppelt besteuert werden dürfen, ging der deutsche Fiskus leer aus. Und weil gleichzeitig Dubai die Gewinne nicht besteuerte, blieben die Gewinne für die deutschen Anleger vollkommen steuerfrei.

Markteinbruch: Im Jahr 2006 knickte der Absatz mit Fonds aus Dubai ein, weil das Doppelbesteuerungsabkommen im August 2006 auslaufen sollte. Als das Abkommen bis Ende 2008 verlängert wurde, versuchten die Fonds, ihre Objekte bis zu diesem Termin zu veräußern – was jedoch meistens misslang. Seit Ende 2008 müssen deutsche Anleger Veräußerungsgewinne aus Dubai auch hierzulande versteuern.

Bron: Handelsblatt

Mehr als 200 Millionen Euro hat das Emissionshaus ACI aus Gütersloh bei Tausenden Anlegern eingesammelt, um damit traumhafte Immobilienprojekte in Dubai zu finanzieren. Doch nun ermittelt die Staatsanwaltschaft. Sie geht dem Verdacht auf Betrug nach.

Hamburg – Die Staatsanwaltschaft Bielefeld hat am Dienstag mehrere Geschäftsräume des Emissionshauses Alternative Capital Invest (ACI) in Gütersloh durchsucht. Nach Informationen von manager magazin inspizierten die Beamten zudem Privaträume von ACI-Verantwortlichen.

Nach Auskunft der Staatsanwaltschaft geht sie dem Verdacht auf Kapitalanlagebetrug nach. Es werde geprüft, ob “im Zusammenhang mit dem Vertrieb von Beteiligungen an geschlossenen Immobilienfonds unrichtige Angaben gemacht worden sind und ob diese gegebenenfalls für die Entscheidung der Anleger, sich an den Fonds zu beteiligen, erheblich waren”, heißt es in einer Mitteilung.

Die bei der Razzia gewonnenen Erkenntnisse hätten den Verdacht bisher nicht erhärten können, teilte die Staatsanwaltschaft weiter mit. Eine genaue Auswertung der vorgefundenen Unterlagen bleibe abzuwarten.

Die Ermittlungen gehen zurück auf eine Anzeige von Rainer R., ehemals Vertriebspartner von ACI und nach Informationen von manager magazin selbst im hohen fünfstelligen Bereich an den Fonds des Unternehmens beteiligt. “Wir halten einige Fondsprospekte für fehlerhaft”, fasst Hartmut Göddecke, Anwalt von R., die Vorwürfe zusammen. “Zudem sind bei zwei Beteiligungsgesellschaften die Eigentumsverhältnisse der Grundstücke unklar und wir haben Zweifel an der Seriosität von Fondskalkulationen.” Bei ACI war für eine Stellungnahme zunächst niemand zu erreichen.

Mehr als 8000 Anleger haben in den Fonds investiert

Die ACI gilt hierzulande als größter Anbieter von Kapitalanlagen mit Investitionsziel Dubai. Mehr als 8000 Anleger haben bislang mehr als 200 Millionen Euro in Fonds des Unternehmens investiert. Projekte mit einem Volumen von mehr als 600 Millionen Euro sollten mit dem Geld realisiert werden. Besonderes Markenzeichen von ACI ist dabei das sogenannte Tower-Branding, bei dem Prominente wie Michael Schumacher, Boris Becker und Niki Lauda den Projekten des Unternehmens ihren Namen leihen.

Seit die Finanzkrise den Boom in Dubai vorerst beendet hat, läuft aber auch bei ACI nicht mehr viel rund. 2009 platzte der Verkauf mehrerer Immobilien aus vier Fonds des Unternehmens, der den Anlegern Rückflüsse in Höhe von mehr als 120 Millionen Euro bringen sollte. Mit den Folgen dieses Flops schlagen sich die Investoren nach Angaben von Anwalt Göddecke noch heute herum.

Die Verkäufe seien von ACI trotz allem verbucht und den Investoren eine Gewinnzuweisung zugeteilt worden, sagt Göddecke. “Der Fiskus hat auf die Scheingewinne prompt Steuern kassiert.” Die steuerliche Mehrbelastung könne sich in Einzelfällen auf fünfstellige Beträge summieren. Auch dazu war von ACI keine Stellungnahme zu bekommen.

ACI ist nicht der erste Dubai-Initiator, der seinen Anlegern wenig Freude bereitet. Vor wenigen Jahren scheiterte der umtriebige Finanzwirt Georg R. aus Hamm bei dem Versuch, sich als Fonds-Initiator zu positionieren. Aus seinem Hotelprojekt, für das er mindestens 20 Millionen Euro bei Anlegern eingesammelt hat, wurde bis heute nichts. Auch R. geriet schnell ins Visier der Staatsanwaltschaft.

The hearing begins and a few words and papers are exchanged between the judge and the lawyers representing each side.

Within minutes, it is all over. Claimants and defendants are quickly ushered out of the courtroom as their respective lawyers whisper a roughly translated version of the judge’s ruling. Moments later, the next case begins.

Welcome to Dubai’s Property Court, a division of the emirate’s legal system that has been dealing with the fallout of its property crisis since September 2008.

As case files spill out of a room one floor down from the court, officials decline to reveal how many property disputes are under way or pending. A clerk in charge of registering cases hints that the figure may be in the “thousands”.

“We are overwhelmed … it is too much work,” says the clerk, who does not want to be named. “Some cases are small, some are big. People should try and settle with the developer as they will spend more bringing the problem here.”

Just a few months after it opened in 2008, the Property Court had a mammoth challenge on its hands after the property downturn.

The court is a “work in progress”, says Dr Jamal Alsumaiti, the director general of the Dubai Judicial Institute. “You can see there’s movement from the government for regulation and for developing the judicial system as well … it’s a very critical period.”

Ron Oakeley is more than familiar with the Property Court, and the huge investment of money and time that come with a lawsuit.

The British businessman, who has been in Dubai since 1985, is about to attend his 15th hearing in a case filed more than a year ago against Alternative Capital Investment (ACI), a German developer.

Mr Oakeley is trying to recover more than Dh1.2 million (US$327,000) he spent on two offices at ACI’s long-delayed Niki Lauda Twin Towers, one of a trio of projects launched in late 2007.

His efforts, in part, paid off in February when the court rendered his agreement with ACI for one of the units “void” and ordered the company to repay him Dh569,585, plus 5 per cent interest from the date he started proceedings.

The court ruled for Mr Oakeley because ACI had failed to register the property with Dubai’s Land Department, according to court documents. A property contract is valid only when it is registered with the department.

But Mr Oakeley lost the case for the second unit, which cost Dh695,000, because the court found that the property had been registered, although it has since emerged it was under somebody else’s name.

ACI was quick to appeal the decision on the first unit. At yesterday’s hearing, the court decided to appoint an official to check on construction progress at the site, which appears to be at a standstill.

If there is still no conclusion at the next hearing, scheduled for June 23, then the case could go to the Court of Cassation, the final stage in the judicial process.

Mr Oakeley is one of dozens of investors with suits against ACI. He says it has so far cost Dh400,000, including fees and the cost of lawyers. But with the project showing little sign of progressing, he says he has no choice but to fight on.

“It’s the principle … most people can’t afford to keep fighting,” he says. “Unlike elsewhere in the world, you’ve got to spend so much more money to get your rights. There are hundreds of other projects in the same boat but nobody seems to be helping the people.”

Robin Lohmann, the chief executive of ACI, was unavailable for comment in the past two days.

Property disputes are generally filtered through the Dubai Land Department, where the department’s legal team tried to resolve them before they reach a courtroom.

While there is a surge in the number of investors turning to the department after the financial crisis, fewer people are approaching it today, says Mohammed Sultan Thani, the assistant director general of the Land Department.

“We are now seeing a lot of agreements between the buyer and seller,” Mr Thani adds. “There’s been a lot of movement of buyers between a project that hasn’t started to one that has.”

Since the Property Court is costly, it has mainly been used by major investors such as Mr Oakeley, who have the funds to pursue a case.

It costs Dh30,000 to register each case with the court, so if an investor has bought 10 apartments from one developer, simply lodging the dispute will cost Dh300,000.

As well, all cases require a local lawyer, who will charge a commission of up to 5 per cent of what the client is claiming. The proceedings are in Arabic so a claimant would have to pay for the translation of court documents as required.

“For an investor contemplating filing a legal case against a developer, it is advisable to first seek consultation with a lawyer who can advise whether filing a case makes sense based on the circumstances,” says Ludmila Yamalova, a partner at Al Sayyah Advocates and Legal Consultants.

Some cases have been settled out of court, Ms Yamalova adds, with developers agreeing to reimburse claimants in instalments.

With just four judges at the Property Court, cases can be long. But more than 18 months after it was established, steps are being taken to refine the system, says Dr Alsumaiti – a move that will likely boost confidence among investors.

“Four judges are not enough,” he says. “The concept of having a specialised property court isn’t new but the implementation is. The judges need to have the skills and knowledge to understand every single detail of a case. As long has you have provisions to speed up your procedures, you have a very strong legal system.”

agiuffrida@thenational.ae

Authorities in Germany are seeking the arrest of a German national on suspicion of a multimillion-euro fraud in connection with a Dubai hotel project that was never built.

A court in Dortmund issued an arrest warrant in November for the developer Georg Recker, who is in Dubai and has denied any wrongdoing.

Investors are said to have provided about €25 million (Dh123.7m) for Mr Recker’s Dubai 1000 Hotel Fonds towards building a 1,050-room, four-star hotel in Dubailand.

The project was planned to be one of the largest hotels in the Middle East and was to have been completed by 2007.

Mr Recker’s property fund was set up in 2005 and was trying to raise €142m. In the prospectus provided to investors, Mr Recker requested a minimum investment of €10,000.

Five years after the project was launched, however, there is nothing but a hole in the ground at the site in Dubailand.

The prosecutor’s office in Dortmund, Germany, confirmed yesterday that a warrant had been issued for Mr Recker’s arrest.

Mr Recker denied there was an arrest warrant for him. He also claimed that work on the hotel project was continuing.

“Everything in Dubailand is delayed,” he said. “There is no infrastructure, no power, no electricity. What we are doing will definitely [continue], but it will take two to three years.”

About 70 of the 900 investors in the fund are also taking legal action against Mr Recker in Germany. KWAG, a law firm based in Hamburg, is representing the investors.

Mr Recker, 36, also denied the existence of the lawsuit.

Lutz Tiedemann, a lawyer at KWAG, asserted that five German bank accounts in Mr Recker’s name, containing a total of about €1m, had been frozen in connection with the claims. Mr Tiedemann added that it might prove difficult to arrest Mr Recker while he was still in Dubai.

“Enforcement in Dubai would be difficult. When he turns back to Europe he would probably be arrested.”

The construction consultancy Drees and Sommer International had been taken on to manage the hotel project, and Dewan Architects and Engineers was providing architectural consultancy services.

“We were working on this project a few years ago,” said Ammar al Assam, the executive director of Dewan. “The client … never paid us for the balance of our work.”

A spokeswoman for Drees and Sommer said her company was no longer involved in the project.

Maritim, the German hotel operator, was signed up to manage the completed property.

“Obviously Georg Recker was not able to win enough investors for the Dubai hotel project,” said Britt Winter, Maritim’s director of public relations. “As far as we are informed, the building is no longer being built, therefore the conclusion is very simple: Maritim cannot run a hotel that doesn’t exist.”

As part of the plans for the property, a Smart car would be provided free for guests who booked a room, according to the prospectus and a press release.

“Picture 1,000 ‘branded’ Smart cars driving around the city of Dubai and you will get a vision of the great brand-building and promotional opportunities within this exciting project,” the statement said.

Dubai’s biggest planned tourist attraction, Dubailand, was designed to help the city achieve its target of attracting 15 million visitors annually by 2015.

Dubailand, a project of the developer Tatweer, was launched in late 2003 with a billing as the Disney World of the Middle East, to be spread over 3 billion square feet.

The plans were that the development, with 45 major projects, would attract 40,000 visitors a day.

But the economic crisis and downturn in property prices has meant that many of the projects exist only on the drawing board.

These include the Universal Studios theme park, Lemnos, which was meant to be a “high luxury world dedicated to women”, and the Aqua Dunya water world, the centrepiece of which would be the world’s largest cruise ship, and the Great Dubai Wheel.

Mr Recker said he was now running a tour company and a German-language publication called Dubai Magazin.

rbundhun@thenational.ae

Hundreds of property buyers in the long-delayed Ivory Tower project in Dubai fear they will lose their cash after work on the development stopped and consultants were called in to staff its Deira offices.

Ivory Tower, planned in the International Media Production Zone (IMPZ), was fully sold off-plan in 2006 and is now almost two years late.

Mohammed Binghalib, the former director of the developer Sokook Investment Group, said he was “not with the company any more”. The company’s website has also been closed and is to be updated, says a message on the site. Sokook’s office in Deira was manned by a consultant from Homes Real Estate yesterday.

The consultant said the developer had hired his company, based in Dubai, to compile a “feasibility report” on the 700 customers who bought units in the sprawling 20-storey Ivory Tower.

Foundation work began at the site last summer but was stalled recently because most investors had stopped paying, said Khaled Mahmood, the consultant from Homes Real Estate.

“I have to make a report to Sokook to see who is paying them and who isn’t,” he said.

“For people who have paid more than 30 per cent, their money is in safe hands because they won’t pay any more until we start construction again; for those who have paid less but don’t want to pay any more, we will forfeit them. Our construction is on hold because of the people who only paid 10 or 15 per cent.”

Mr Mahmood said the aim of the feasibility report was to find out how many investors were willing to continue with the project. If the development went ahead with, say, half the number of investors, the project would be scaled back by half, he said.

Mr Mahmood added that an option for buyers would be to transfer their investments to other projects in Dubai that were either completed or nearing completion.

This would have to be done through agreements with other developers, he said, as Sokook’s only project in Dubai was the Ivory Tower.

“If there is no trust left in the project, then we can talk with the customer and swap their investment to a developer who is more advanced.” He declined to name any developers with which Sokook had been in talks.

Mr Mahmood’s comments have done little to appease those who have waited almost four years for their homes to be built.

Investors formed an action group in 2008 when it became clear that the building would not be ready by the deadline, the middle of that year.

The original delay was caused by a dispute over the land with TECOM Investments, the master developer of IMPZ. The row was resolved only with the help of the Dubai Land Department in the summer of 2008.

Nigel Collins, an investor from the UK who bought four apartments in Ivory Tower in 2006, said many of the investors had given up the fight.

“It’s a catch-22 situation. I would be open to transferring my investment somewhere else if it means I can rent or sell that property.”

Source: The National

A property investor has been awarded a refund by Dubai Courts for an office unit he bought in a project that is 20 months behind schedule.

The British businessman Ron Oakeley bought two offices in a building in Dubai’s Business Bay that was to be named after the former Formula One racing driver Niki Lauda. The proposed Niki Lauda Twin Towers building was part of a trio of projects launched by Alternative Capital Invest (ACI) Real Estate, a German developer, in late 2007 that were to be named after famous sport stars.

He filed a lawsuit against ACI in March last year to try to recover more than Dh1 million (US$272,000) he had invested in the project, which was due to be completed this year but is about 20 months late.

According to a judgment from Dubai Courts that has been seen by The National, the courts rendered Mr Oakeley’s agreement with ACI for one of the units “void” and ordered the company to pay back Dh569,585, plus 5 per cent interest from the date Mr Oakeley started court proceedings.

The case was won because ACI had failed to register the property with Dubai’s Land Department, according to court documents. A property contract is valid only when it is registered with the department.

Mr Oakeley’s victory was muted, however, as he lost the case for a second unit on which he spent Dh695,000, because it was registered.

The investor is appealing against the second decision through Dubai’s Court of Cassation.

Despite spending thousands of dirhams taking the case to court, and risking losing the judgment on the first unit, Mr Oakeley said he would continue the fight.

“It’s like throwing good money after bad, but having two units makes it worthwhile,” he said.

With most developers grappling with a shortage of cash, Mr Oakeley also has the challenge of getting the court’s order enforced.

Unless a project is officially cancelled by Dubai’s Real Estate Regulatory Agency, cash kept in an escrow account, in which developers must by law deposit all investors’ money, must be used to fund construction, however long that might take.

“It’s all well and good getting a court order to get your money back, but does the developer have the money?” said Duane Keighran, the deputy head of property for the MENA region at the law firm Simmons and Simmons.

“There are a number of developers in town who wouldn’t have enough in the escrow account to refund investors; and money they do have will be used for construction. Investors can go to ACI themselves, with the court order and ask for the money, or the court can do it, but it’s unclear what the recourse would be after that.”

Saqer Engineering and Contracting Enterprises was awarded a contract in late 2008 to build the Niki Lauda project, but has since slowed work.

Mahmoud Younis, the managing partner at Saqer, said the project could take a further 20 months to complete.

“It’s ongoing but it is very slow … because of the cash flow,” he said.

Robin Lohmann, the managing director of ACI, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Meanwhile, work on two other towers that were to be named after former tennis champion Boris Becker and the F1 driver Michael Schumacher is also behind schedule.

Becker also owns a share in the Boris Becker Beach Resort and Tennis Academy, a Dh3 billion resort planned by ACI on Al Marjan Island in Ras al Khaimah.

Source: The National