x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The mystery of Dubai property dealer Mr McGeever

Mystery surrounds the alleged abduction of an Irish businessmen wanted by Dubai police for his role in the property crash

In an odd coincidence, the day before Kevin McGeever reappeared on January 29 it was announced that work was to resume on half-completed Shami Tower in Sports City, Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National
In an odd coincidence, the day before Kevin McGeever reappeared on January 29 it was announced that work was to resume on half-completed Shami Tower in Sports City, Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National

He was found wandering on a country road, half-naked, emaciated and dazed. But this was no vagrant - rather a millionaire businessman missing for eight months. While his disappearance is still a mystery, his role in selling Dubai property could be a factor. Jonathan Gornall reports

For a few moments, the couple driving home one evening last week along the dark country road in County Leitrim, Ireland, thought the object ahead of them by the side of the carriageway was a discarded traffic cone.

But as their car drew closer, Catherine Vallely and her partner, Peter Reihill, realised their headlights had picked out a man, naked but for a red plastic sheet wrapped around his fearfully emaciated body.

They stopped to see if they could help and were shocked by what they found.

They had stumbled on Kevin McGeever, 68, a wealthy Irish businessman with interests in aviation, the oil industry and the pre-crash Dubai property market, who had been reported missing from his palatial home in County Galway eight months previously.

Now, in a plot twist straight out of a Hollywood thriller, he had reappeared, 130 kilometres away from his home and in a condition described in one report as "confused, emaciated, barefoot, with long fingernails and a lengthy beard".

His hair was so long and matted that at first neither of his rescuers noticed the single word that had been inked in large letters on his forehead: "thief".

Beyond the red plastic sheet, Mr McGeever's only possession was a mobile telephone, with no call history. He had no idea of the date or where he was, and said he had been told to keep the telephone with him at all times.

"He was just skin and bones," Ms Vallely said. "He said he hadn't eaten for God knows how long."

Later, it emerged that Mr McGeever had lost more than 30 kilograms during his supposed ordeal.

"He had a pair of enormous eyes in a very thin face and his cheekbones stuck out," Ms Vallely said. "He was rubbing his beard with fingers that had long nails. He was very well educated, well spoken and polite and articulate."

Severely malnourished and dehydrated, Mr McGeever was taken to a local police station, where officers fed the famished tycoon tea, biscuits and chips as he began haltingly to relate an incredible story.

He told them he had been kidnapped from his home in Craughwell, County Galway, by three armed men on May 27 last year, although police later confirmed he had not been reported missing by his partner, Siobhan O'Callaghan, until June 22 - about a month later.

She had, said officers this week, requested no publicity for the abduction.

Mr McGeever told officers he had no real memory of what had happened to him since then, beyond that he had been taken for ransom, had been kept in a dark room - or a shipping container, according to some reports - and had been dumped by the side of the road by men in a van shortly before he had been found.

On Tuesday, the Irish Independent reported that his kidnappers had demanded €10 million (Dh49.5m). It remains unclear if any ransom was paid, but about €80,000 is said to have been taken from Mr McGeever's bank accounts during the ordeal.

He was taken to Mullingar General Hospital for treatment for malnutrition, and remains there under armed police guard. So far, police have cautioned that they have not been able to confirm Mr McGeever's account of his whereabouts for the past eight months.

At the time, his disappearance seems to have gone unnoticed by the media. Although he was known for owning a string of expensive cars and a helicopter, he is said to have kept himself to himself and no one in the small community of Craughwell even appeared to know that he was missing.

His brother, Brendan McGeever, told the Irish Independent on Tuesday, a week after his brother had been found, that in hospital he had looked "quite horrific … like a 90-year-old man in the bed".

Curious details about the kidnap have begun to emerge. Three text messages were sent to Mr McGeever's partner, Ms O'Callaghan, in the days after his disappearance, apparently from him and assuring her he was all right. However, the texts were reportedly sent on networks in Germany and in the UK.

Brendan McGeever said he and his brother "have separate lives", and he knew nothing about his brother's business activities. However, some details of Mr McGeever's business interests have begun to emerge, amid growing evidence that Dubai's pre-crash property boom may have played some part in the story.

According to various sources reported in the Irish and British press, Mr McGeever had been a beneficiary of the second phase of the Celtic Tiger boom, the return to form in about 2004 of the decade of rapid economic growth in Ireland that began in the mid-Nineties and re-energised the nation's economy.

Part of his fortune seems to have been made in Dubai, where he had started to sell properties off-plan to wealthy Irish and British property investors.

His company was KMM Properties, named after his initials - his full name is Kevin Michael McGeever - and he seems to have promoted and sold various Dubai properties in exhibitions throughout Ireland.

In April 2007 a local newspaper in Ireland carried promotional coverage of Mr McGeever's "Dubai-based KMM International Properties", inviting its readers to "Realise your dreams in Dubai" at a KMM property exhibition at the SAS Raddison Hotel in Sligo, Ireland.

With direct Aer Lingus flights to Dubai from Dublin since March 2006, prospective investors could "choose from seven exclusive developments in Dubai", including one in Sports City. The article gave the address of KMM's Irish-registered website, MyDubaiHome.ie, which no longer exists.

Property chat rooms and the Irish press have been abuzz with theories about what lies behind Mr McGeever's apparent abduction.

"The 68-year-old tycoon," reported the Irish News, was "said to have told gardai [police] that he was kept in a darkened container because he owed money to both Russian gangsters and the IRA".

If that were true, as one property website poster noted on Saturday, "You're gonna have a bad time".

Police are said to be investigating a 2010 complaint by Mr McGeever that he was threatened near his home by a man driving a car with UK number plates.

The proximity of where Mr McGeever was found to the border with County Fermanagh, one of the six counties of Northern Ireland and an IRA stronghold during the Troubles, has led police to investigate whether he was held over the border. It would not be the first time that the Provisional IRA - or its successor organisations, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA - had kidnapped a wealthy businessman for ransom, but it would be the first time since the 1980s.

In 1983 a supermarket executive, Don Tidey, was seized by the IRA and held for ransom in a wood near Ballinamore, County Leitrim, close to where Mr McGeever was found wandering along the road.

Mr Tidey was freed in a raid by Irish security forces after 23 days of captivity, but a soldier and a police officer were killed in the ensuing gun battle and his kidnappers escaped. Whatever the truth, the events of the past eight months would be worthy of the plot of a Hollywood thriller - a not entirely inappropriate development for a man whose lavish new-built mansion in Craughwell was a second choice, after he had lost out in a bid to buy the nearby 18th century Saint Clerans House, formerly owned by the American director, John Huston, and the childhood home of his daughter, the actress Anjelica Huston.

One of the properties with which KMM was involved seems to have been Shami Tower, a development in Dubai's Sports City by a Pakistani company, Brouks Real Estate. And like many developments in Dubai caught out by the property crash, Shami Tower has had its share of difficulties.

According to reports in Irish newspapers this weekend, Dubai police issued an arrest warrant for Mr McGeever over his property dealings in Dubai in May 2011, followed by a global alert through Interpol.

The same month, The National reported the case of one investor, 29-year-old Irish businessman Ray O'Reilly, who had paid a 90 per cent deposit of Dh800,000 on an apartment in Shami Tower - a 17-storey development of 238 units "in the heart of Dubai Sports City" - only to see work on the half-finished project grind to a halt in 2009, the year it was supposed to have been completed.

There would be no refund, the developer told Mr O'Reilly; the building would now be completed in 2011. It is not clear if Mr O'Reilly bought his apartment from KMM Properties, but others did.

"Has anyone bought an apartment in Shami Tower from KMM Properties?" asked one plaintive message on the Dubai forum of the website PropertyCommunity.com, posted on May 2, 2010, by a John Duffy.

"Is this company still trading, as I have not heard anything about them for a while?"

His post prompted others, including one from "Chopperjohn", who wrote: "I have also purchased my property from KMM Properties. Is this company still trading? Any information would be great."

None was forthcoming, although Mr Duffy noted that he had not heard from KMM for "two years, just after they closed their office in Ireland".

By coincidence, Brouks Real Estate posted an update on the development on the Shami Tower website on January 28 - the day before Mr McGeever reappeared. Work, it claimed, would "resume in a short period and the project is now being reactivated".

But there was a dark undertone to the update.

In addition to blaming "the worldwide turmoil and catastrophe in financial and property sector in UAE", for the long delay in the project, the writer, "project shareholder" Hassan Shah, referred obliquely to "many issues ie threats, allegations and blackmailing from many internal and external stakeholders", that had plagued the development.

Mr Shah, who gave his email address on the website, did not respond to a request for information about his company's involvement with KMM Property.