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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.

Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) — Not long ago, British businessman Ryan Cornelius was living the high life, doing deals out of Bahrain and taking his family big-game fishing on his yacht and on safari in Kenya. He’s now into his third year in a Dubai jail cell, yet to be convicted of anything.

“The worst aspect of the way we’ve been treated is the fact that the legal system seems to be so suspended in its own inefficiency,” he said from a pay phone at Dubai’s Central Prison. “We just don’t seem to move forward. The whole legal system seems to hold you in a state of constant suspension.”

Cornelius, 56, and six co-defendants have been charged with defrauding Dubai Islamic Bank PJSC of $501 million, one of the largest such cases in the history of United Arab Emirates. He says he did nothing wrong, and like others, foreigners and nationals, who profited in Dubai in the boom times, he waits in prison as the legal system slowly tries to separate the guilty from the innocent of those arrested in an anti-corruption drive.

Dubai’s image as the Singapore of the Middle East, a global hub for finance and tourism, is being tested as it tries to clamp down on excesses such as fraud and overdevelopment, which came with an explosion of people and investment. Its judicial system still often has more in common with its regional neighbors than the Western nations that it aspires to emulate, say lawyers and economists who work there.

The government won’t say how many people have been arrested in the two-year campaign against financial corruption. Detained in Dubai, a London-based lobbying group, says several hundred executives may have been jailed.

Debtors’ Prisons

In all, about 40 percent of the 1,200 people in Dubai Central Prison have been convicted of defaulting on bank loans, Human Rights Watch said in a report in January. Even after completing their sentences, the New York-based group said, prisoners are likely to remain in jail until their debt is paid off, unlike in the U.S. or the U.K., where debtors’ prisons were abolished in the 19th century.

Over-lengthy sentences and a lack of specially trained judges to deal with white-collar crime threaten to discourage investment in Dubai, said Habib al-Mulla, the former chairman of the Dubai Financial Services Authority, an industry regulator. The U.S. State Department said in a March report that while the country’s constitution guarantees an independent judiciary, the U.A.E. court system remains “subject to review by the political leadership.” Defendants can spend months without being charged and are often unfairly denied bail, according to lawyers.

‘Damaging Effect’

“Our current criminal laws are not fit to deal with sophisticated financial crimes,” said al-Mulla, a lawyer who helped defend Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in a U.S. lawsuit and now represents one of Cornelius’s co-defendants. New laws are needed “to protect bona fide businessmen from the abuse that some do face under the current legal system. This abuse has a damaging effect on the economy and the country.”

The Dubai government and the prosecutor’s office didn’t respond to repeated e-mailed and phone requests for comment during a three-week period.

The government started the anti-corruption drive as the global credit crisis cut Dubai home prices in half from their peak in 2008, the biggest drop in property values in the world. The city-state, the second largest of the seven emirates that make up the U.A.E., has amassed debts of more than $100 billion related to projects such as the world’s tallest tower and artificial palm tree-shaped islands built by developer Nakheel PJSC.

Some Freed

Some U.A.E. citizens arrested were freed after repaying what the government said they owed. The former governor of the Dubai International Financial Center, Omar bin Sulaiman, was released from prison in May following two months of detention after he returned about $14 million in bonuses, according to a government announcement. Hashim Al Dabal, the ex-chairman of state-owned Dubai Properties LLC, got out in June after eight months in detention by paying $35 million as part of an embezzlement investigation, the government said.

Others remain in prison as their trials inch along. Zack Shahin, a former PepsiCo Inc. executive from Ohio, has been incarcerated since March 2008, charged in the alleged $27 million embezzlement at property company Deyaar Development PJSC. Two Australian executives from Nakheel, Marcus Lee and Matt Joyce, spent almost half a year in jail without charges and are now on bail facing trial for misappropriating funds.

“In Dubai, they would prefer to keep them in custody to put pressure on them, to generally punish them and make life difficult for them,” said Robert Brown, a partner at London- based Corker Binning, which represented a Pakistani defendant whose extradition to Dubai from the U.K. was refused in March because a court ruled he faced possible torture.

‘Politically Charged’

In a statement earlier this year, Shahin’s lawyers said he was imprisoned without charges for 13 months, denied food, held in solitary confinement and often blindfolded, interrogated for 18 hours at a time and threatened with torture. They said Shahin, 45, is innocent and “a target of a politically charged investigation.”

Dubai’s attorney general, Essam Essa al-Humaidan, last year denied allegations Shahin, a U.S. citizen, has been abused, saying in an interview that Shahin and other defendants “have been granted all the rights under U.A.E. law.” The U.S. government has “repeatedly” raised Shahin’s case with the U.A.E. authorities, a State Department spokesman, who asked not to be identified because of the pending legal proceedings, said in an interview on July 23. Shahin’s case was last discussed in May at a Washington meeting between Attorney General Eric Holder and U.A.E. Justice Minister Hadef bin Jua’an Al Dhaheri, the spokesman said, when the U.S. asked the trial be conducted expeditiously.

Flight Risk

“Regardless of whether an individual is innocent or guilty, there should be due process and he or she should be charged in a timely manner,” Samer Muscati, a lawyer from Human Rights Watch who specializes in the U.A.E., said in a phone interview from Toronto.

With about 90 percent of Dubai’s 1.8 million population made up of foreigners, there is a “natural tendency to assume these individuals pose a flight risk,” said Carlos Gonzalez, a partner for Miami-based Diaz Reus LLP, which has worked on commercial disputes and fraud cases in the Middle East.

‘Psychological Pressures’

“In the U.S. it is common to see the courts in white- collar cases grant bail,” said Gonzalez, adding that keeping individuals in jail for several years during legal proceedings puts “psychological pressures” on them.

Investors are looking carefully at the rule of law in Dubai after the prosecutions of foreign executives, said John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Riyadh-based Banque Saudi Fransi. “It is good they are taking some individuals to court, pursuing them, but the way they are pursuing them could impact Dubai.”

In Russia, lawmakers are revising the law on economic crimes, resulting in the possible early release of as many as 100,000 imprisoned executives and entrepreneurs as the government seeks to attract investors.

‘Fake Deals’

Cornelius and his co-defendants are accused of diverting funds from a $501 million trade-financing loan for projects such as the Plantation, a 20 million-square-foot development in the Dubai desert that was to include five polo pitches with stables for 800 horses, a luxury hotel and houses. The prosecution charges Cornelius and others forged documents and used the loans for “fake deals,” according to a court document.

“I absolutely deny all the allegations against me,” Cornelius said in a telephone interview from Dubai Central Prison on July 15.

Cornelius said the money was mostly used for property development in Bahrain and the relocation of an oil refinery from Canada to Pakistan as well as the Plantation in Dubai. He said he and the others reached a debt repayment agreement in 2007 with Dubai Islamic Bank. It took control of the Plantation, valued in mid-2008 at $1.1 billion by property broker Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., after the arrest of Cornelius and his associates.

Prison Life

He spends his time in a dormitory with about 100 other men. The conditions are an improvement over the several weeks he was in Rashidiya prison, where more than 250 prisoners shared six rooms meant for 48 and two working toilets, he said. Cornelius said he was held in solitary for six weeks after his arrest in May 2008. The yacht and his beach hotel in Kenya have been sold, he said.

Cornelius said he’s been denied bail a dozen times. The proceedings are in Arabic and difficult to follow though he has a court interpreter. Originally facing a maximum sentence of three years, Cornelius and the others could get up to 20 years in prison under Dubai’s tougher new anti-corruption law announced after his arrest.

Radha Stirling, a lawyer and founder of Detained in Dubai, which offers support to expatriates held in Dubai, said there has been a marked increase in detentions for financial crimes since last year. The majority of cases she is dealing with are debt related or because of bounced checks, which is a criminal offense in the U.A.E.

Image Tarnished

“I think a lot of people relocated to Dubai as an extension of Europe, like France, Spain or even the U.S.,” Stirling said. “It was seen as very developed with a good legal system. The average person who was once going there to seek employment or invest will shy away from Dubai.”

Rony Bacque, the business development manager for the Wine Academy of Spain, said he canceled plans to set up a branch in Dubai to offer training in wines for hotels and restaurants. His brother-in-law was named in an Interpol warrant for almost five years until this July after he was convicted in absentia for breach of trust in a Dubai business dispute, Bacque said.

The Dubai legal system is no better or worse than others in the region, said Gonzalez, the Miami lawyer. What is different, he said, is Dubai’s aspirations.

“You can’t wake up and say we’re working to have a world- class financial system overnight and build a legal system to match,” he said. “Dubai, as an aspiring global marketplace, must also endeavor to become recognized as a cutting-edge legal center capable of developing a legal structure that matches its financial ambitions.”

–With assistance from Camilla Hall in Abu Dhabi and Zainab Fattah in Dubai. Editors: Steve Bailey, James Amott.

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Meyer in Dubai at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

Laut Feri haben etwa 100.000 Anleger rund 1 Mrd. Euro Investitionen in Dubai-Fonds angelegt. Bis auf die „Marktführer“ ACI und Trendcapital handelt es sich um kleine Emissionshäuser ohne aussagefähige Leistungsbilanzen und mit nur geringer Erfahrung. Die letzten beiden Aussagen treffen auch auf ACI und Trendcapital zu.

§            Alternative Capital Invest GmbH & Co. (ACI), Gütersloh (Hans-Uwe Lohmann und Sohn Robin Lohmann): 8.000 Anleger mit Investitionskapital von 600 Mio. € mit sieben Beteiligungsgesellschaften in wirtschaftlicher Schieflage (zwei Klagen gegen die ACI sind bereits anhängig). Aufsichtsbehörde in Dubai ermittelt gegen ACI (Branch) wegen Verstoßes gegen Law No. 8.

§            Trendcapital AG, Mainz + Wiesbaden (Vorstand: Frank Simon), im Jahre 2000 gegründetes Emissionshaus:  Investitionskapital von insgesamt 89 Mio. € eingeworben für Dubai Fonds Business Bay I, II + III + Trend Capital GmbH & Co. Qatar Pearl KG (Business Bay I) angeblich erfolgreich mit 119,3 % Rückfluss aufgelöst), Abwicklung von Business II + III verzögert.

§            Dubai Select Management GmbH, München (GF: Thomas Winkmann): Anleger mit 50,02 Mio. € Investitionskapital — Dubai Select Immobilienfonds GmbH & Co. KG (Anlegerausschuss mit Ove Franz).

§            Quickfunds Gesellschaft für internationales Investment GmbH, Köln: Dubai Direkt Fonds I + II + III, in Liquidation (Liquidator: RA Dr. Reiter von BR & C).

§            VentaCom GmbH, Bremen (Edler von Schickh, Bremen): 20 Mio. € Zielvolumen für Erste Opportunity Fonds Dubai (5 Mio. € Investitionsvolumen) + Dubai VAE Opportunity II (Ventafonds)

§            Amaxfunds Vertriebs GmbH, Nettethal: Amax Dubai Renditefonds I GmbH & Co. KG mit 15 Mio. € Beteiligungskapital.

§            World of Fonds Initiator GmbH, Fulda (Inga Bruns + Christian Atzert): Dubai Property Portfolio Plus GmbH & Co. KG + Dubai PPP II GmbH & Co. KG, vorher: Dubai Sports City KG (von TrendCapital konzeptioniert, Immobilie mittlerweile veräußert, Zahlungseingang + Auflösung Fonds im Juni 2009 erwartet)

§            Dubai 1.000 Hotelfonds GmbH & Co. KG: 25 Mio. € Investitionen. Liquidation des Fonds zum 29.07.2008 angestrebt. Ermittlungen der StA Dortmund gegen Geschäftsführer Georg Recker wegen Kapitalanlagebetrugs + Betrugs (internationaler Haftbefehl), das in Deutschland befindliche Fondsvermögen wurde zwischenzeitlich arrestiert.

§            First Real Estate Grundbesitz GmbH (insolvent): Dubai Invest Immobilienfonds GmbH & Co. KG: Blindpool-Beteiligung in wirtschaftlicher Schieflage. Das Landgericht Düsseldorf hat mit Urteil vom 27.06.2008 die Dubai Invest Immobilienfonds, den Hintermann Michael Böhle + die GF. Ilona Müller zu Schadensersatz verurteilt (Kapitalanlagebetrug + sittenwidrige Schädigung).

§            Selfmade Capital Management GmbH (Andre Hartwig): Emirates I (13 Mio. € eingeworbenes Investitionskapital), II + III mit Genusssscheinrechtsvereinbarung.

§            Shedlin Capital AG, Nürnberg: geplantes Fondsvolumen von 48 Mio. € der Shedlin Middle East Health Care 1 GmbH & Co. KG, Bremen: Investitionen in das Gesundheitswesen (Errichtung und der Betrieb eines Krankenhauses als auch einer Stadtklinik in Abu Dhabi).

§            Dubai Forum Project AG & Co. KG: 15 Mio. € Anlegergelder

§            Middle East Select GmbH & Co. KG, Bremen (Hans-Jürgen Döhle, Heinz G. Wulfrath und David F. Heimdorfer): 12 Mio. € Investitionen Zielvolumen in Immobilien- + Infrastrukturprojekte mit Blindpool-Konzept.

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.

THE Gucci Group has filed a lawsuit in Florence against Elisabetta Gucci, following news that she had plans to develop hotels in Dubai.

“Gucci wants to make clear that it has no relationship to Elisabetta Gucci Hotels and that it is not involved in any project whatsoever with Elisabetta Gucci Hotels,” the company told WWD. “Gucci filed the lawsuit against Elisabetta Gucci and the parties involved seeking injunctive relief in order to protect its rights.”

Elisabetta is the daughter of Paolo Gucci and the great-granddaughter of Gucci founder Guccio Gucci. Having worked for the family business until 1995, she has since become artistic director of luxury furniture distributor Formitalia Luxury Group, founded by her father.

The businesswoman plans to open an 87-suite hotel in Dubai’s Media World district by the end of the 2010 – according to a report from Lorens Ziller, managing director of her EG Hotels company, to Bloomberg.

“Elisabetta Gucci is doing her job” Ziller said in a June 23 interview. “She cannot cancel her name or her background. If she has a famous name or a famous background, that’s not her fault and we are not trying to use it as such.”

The Gucci family has a long-standing history of bitter feuds – in 1998 Patrizia Reggiani was jailed for 26 years after being found guilty of arranging the murder of her ex-husband Maurizio Gucci, grandson of Guccio Gucci, in 1995. Ridley Scott is rumored to making a film based on the story.

Grauer Kapitalmarkt grotesk: Eigentlich sollten im Luxushotel “Maritim Dubailand” längst Gäste wohnen. Auf dem Wüstengrundstück befindet sich aber bislang nur eine Baugrube. Deutsche Anleger haben den Hotelflop mitfinanziert. Einem jungen Finanzwirt aus Hamm vertrauten sie Millionen an.

Hamm/Dubai – Drei Kräne, ein paar Baucontainer und eine riesige Baugrube – viel mehr gibt es nicht zu sehen auf dem Grundstück im Hinterland Dubais. Nur wenige Arbeiter sind zu entdecken – sie machen nicht den Eindruck, als wollten sie sich verausgaben.

Was an gleicher Stelle zu dieser Zeit eigentlich geplant war, steht im Emissionsprospekt eines geschlossenen Immobilienfonds, des Hotelfonds Dubai 1000: Ein Luxushotel, ausgestattet mit 1000 Zimmern, 50 so genannten Ownersuiten und – als besonderem Bonbon – dem “Ein-Zimmer-Ein-Auto-Konzept”, bei dem die Übernachtungsgäste eigens bereit gestellte Fahrzeuge kostenlos nutzen können. Schon im Juli dieses Jahres hätte das Haus die ersten Besucher aufnehmen sollen.

Tat es aber nicht. Und auch in nächster Zukunft wird kaum ein Gast im Hotel “Maritim Dubailand” absteigen. Denn im Moment ist kaum absehbar, wann der Bau fertig gestellt wird.

Zahlreiche deutsche Kapitalanleger kommt das teuer zu stehen. Denn diese haben den Fonds mit reichlich Eigenkapital ausgestattet. Wie viel die Anleger genau zum Investitionsvolumen von insgesamt knapp 143 Millionen Euro beigesteuert haben, ist allerdings offen. Initiator Georg Recker aus Hamm in Westfalen macht dazu keine Angaben. Die 70 Millionen Euro, die laut Markterhebung des Analysten Stefan Loipfinger zusammengekommen sein sollen, werden von Insidern als zu hoch gegriffen angezweifelt.

So oder so steht der Beteiligungsmarkt, in dem Jahr für Jahr zweistellige Milliardensummen eingesammelt werden, damit allen Bestrebungen und Beteuerungen für mehr Transparenz, Professionalität und Seriosität zum Trotz einmal mehr am Rande eines Anlagedesasters größeren Ausmaßes.

Was ist passiert? Am Anfang standen – wie so oft – große Versprechungen. In Hundertschaften hatte Recker vor rund zwei Jahren Anleger und potenzielle Vertriebspartner in Dubai begrüßt. Der Junginitiator – Anfang 30, Typ Dampfplauderer und bis dato vor allem als Steuerexperte und Seminarveranstalter aufgefallen – hämmerte seinen Gästen an zahllosen Wochenenden die Vorzüge seines ersten Beteiligungsangebots ein. Dubai boomt, der Fremdenverkehr ebenso. Was läge da näher als ein Hotel in der Wüste zu bauen?

Das Projektteam löst sich in Luft auf

Aber nicht irgendeine Herberge sollte es sein. Diplom-Finanzwirt Recker wollte das größte Vier-Sterne-Hotel im arabischen Raum, mitten im Herzen des geplanten Mega-Freizeitparks “Dubailand” sollte es stehen. Ein neues Monument der Gigantomanie im an Superlativen ohnehin schon überfrachteten Dubai. Wenn schon, denn schon.

Viele waren auf Anhieb begeistert. Und die wenigen, die Bedenken äußerten, wurden von Recker und seinen Jüngern gnadenlos abgebügelt. Risiken? Gelächter!

Unter jenen, die sich tatsächlich beteiligt haben, herrscht inzwischen Ernüchterung. Von Reckers Versprechungen hat sich noch kaum eine bewahrheitet. Insbesondere die prognostizierten Ausschüttungen von durchschnittlich 10 Prozent pro Jahr sind nicht in Sicht.

Dabei sah das Vorhaben auf dem Papier zunächst wirklich vielversprechend aus. Eine Reihe prominenter Partner hatte Recker mit ins Boot geholt. Vom Edel-Interieur-Designer Bost in Berlin über die Siemens-Tochter SIAT sowie die weltweit renommierte Projektmanagementgesellschaft Drees + Sommer (“Zentrale Deutsche Post, Bonn”, “Aqua City Palace, Moskau”) bis zu Dewan, einem der führenden Architekturbüros im arabischen Raum, reichte die Liste der am Projekt beteiligten Unternehmen. Mit Maritim war auch schon ein namhafter Betreiber gefunden.

Inzwischen ist von Reckers Dreamteam nicht mehr viel übrig. Lediglich Designer Bost hält dem Jungunternehmer aus Hamm uneingeschränkt die Treue. Das Architekturbüro SIAT? Schon vor Monaten aufgelöst. Der Projektmanager Drees + Sommer? Recker kündigte den Vertrag bereits im April 2006 wegen angeblich mangelhafter Leistung.

Der Initiator stellt sich tot

Anfang dieses Jahres sprang mit Bernhard Ilming auch noch Reckers wichtigster Berater in Hotelfragen ab. Und die Maritim-Gruppe? Laut Informationen von Marktbeobachtern war der Vertrag mit der Hotelkette auf ungewöhnliche Weise zustande gekommen. Recker habe die Kooperation direkt mit der Maritim-Zentrale in Bad Salzuflen vereinbart, schreibt der Brancheninformationsdienst “Hottelling”. Der übliche Weg über den Maritim-Auslands-Entwicklungspartner HMS in Köln sei umgangen worden.

Jetzt teilt Maritim auf Anfrage mit, das Thema Dubai 1000 Hotelfonds werde gerade bearbeitet. Zurzeit seien definitive Aussagen dazu nicht möglich. Echte Vorfreude auf eine Hoteleröffnung klingt anders.

Die kann nach Einschätzung von Experten ohnehin frühestens in zwei Jahren aufkommen. Und das auch nur, wenn von nun an mit Hochdruck gearbeitet wird – wovon aber gegenwärtig keine Rede sein kann.

Von Georg Recker war zu alldem keine Stellungnahme zu bekommen. Insbesondere die Fragen, welches Unternehmen zurzeit die Bauarbeiten vor Ort betreibt und wann mit einer Hoteleröffnung zu rechnen ist, blieben unbeantwortet. Zu den offenen Forderungen seiner (Ex-)Geschäftspartner äußerte er sich ebenfalls nicht.

Gegenüber seinen Anlegern zeigt sich der Initiator dagegen wesentlich kommunikativer. Mit seitenlangen Schreiben versucht er sie bei Laune zu halten. Die Verzögerungen von “sicherlich 12 Monaten” seien auf eine verspätete Übergabe der Grundstücke in “Dubailand” zurückzuführen, schreibt Recker da. Er sei aber stolz, bereits einen 500 Meter langen Zaun errichtet sowie mehrere Baucontainer aufgestellt zu haben.

Weiter heißt es: “Die Hotels in Dubai sind mit mehr als 85 Prozent Auslastung voller Besucher von nah und fern. (…) Viele Besucher aus Kuwait und Saudi Arabien machen ihren Jahresurlaub mittlerweile in Dubai und nicht mehr in Europa.”

Wären die Anleger des Dubai 1000 Hotelfonds an einem anderen Hotel in Dubai beteiligt, würden sie sich über diese Informationen sicher sehr freuen.

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

Damac has allegedly used investments from cancelled property projects to fund the Park Towers, a twin-tower development located in Dubai International Financial Centre, the DIFC courts heard yesterday.

Lawyers representing a German investor, Dr Lothar Ludwig Hardt, said the developer allegedly used the money from other property projects to construct Park Towers, the only development that appears to be ongoing out of the five that Hardt had signed up in February 2007.

“These close links show the other four properties are connected to Park Towers… which should have been finished two years ago,” Ludmila Yamalova, legal consultant and partner at Al Sayyah Advocates and Legal Consultants, told Emirates Business. She said Hardt has invested $9.7 million on five properties which, in addition to Park Towers include the two cancelled projects – Lotus Residences and Wildflower; Ocean Heights, which was scheduled for completion eight months ago; and Water’s Edge, where construction hasn’t been started yet.

The German investor is thus demanding refund of $9.7m and is seeking damages and lost profits caused by the developers’ breach of contract and other violations of the UAE, Dubai and DIFC Courts. Yamalova estimates that damages, loss of profits plus all the legal fees could go up to $140m.

“As of today, defendants have not delivered any of the properties and have not complied with any of the contractual obligations to claimants,” a claim form seen by Emirates Business said.

“Defendants have committed a series of violations of UAE, Dubai and DIFC Laws in connection with properties such as enticement and unfairness, illegal sale, failure to obtain necessary approvals, failure to commence construction timely, failure to timely register developer and obtain necessary license, mismanagement of escrow funds and violation of trust account regulations, unfair contracts of adhesion, fraud and deception… illegal competition, bribery, trickery, breach of trust, cheating in commercial transactions, money laundering and accomplice liability,” said the claim form.

Damac has not submitted a rebuttal on the substantive grounds and instead questioned the jurisdiction of the DIFC courts to hear the case. It has filed a motion to stop the lawsuit from being heard and has also moved to strike the case entirely on the basis of jurisdiction.

Law firm Simmons & Simmons argued that parties concerned have agreed in the contract that any disputes will be governed by Courts of Dubai and therefore Courts of Dubai has exclusive jurisdiction of the case.

Claimants argue that DIFC Courts is one of the Courts of Dubai but defendants say that Courts of Dubai only refers to the local Dubai Court.

“We argue that DIFC courts has jurisdiction over all these properties because it has jurisdiction over Damac LLC and Damac Property LLC is the entity to whom all the payments to all the other projects were made,” Yamalova said. “They use different names but they all own each other. Damac LLC is owned by Damac Investment and so on and so forth.”

Damac has other cases pending in Dubai Courts but this is the first time that a case against it is lodged in DIFC courts.

“It’s a complicated issue of jurisdiction. It is an untested waters. But I think we have a strong case,” Yamalova said.

She said it is more favourable for the defendants to hear the case in Dubai Courts because of the time delaying factor.

“There it’ll take longer and we’ll have to file five separate cases,” she said. “In this case, we need to file 45 different cases and would have to pay Dh30,000 for each and would have to translate everything into English – so that’s additional expense.”