x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Ex-Nakheel executives in court

Four Australians gave false information about the ownership and value of land as part of a fraud that ran to more than Dh44 million.

DUBAI // Four Australians gave false information about the ownership and value of land as part of a fraud that ran to more than Dh44 million (US$12m), a court was told yesterday. Two of the men, former executives of the property company Nakheel, were denied bail when they appeared in the dock for the first time. MJ, the chief executive of the Dubai Waterfront project, and ML, his deputy, were charged along with fellow Australians AB, the Waterfront's legal affairs manager, and AR, a businessman. The latter two remain at large.

MJ and ML, who have been in custody since June, both denied attaining illegal profits and commission totalling Dh44.1m, as well as defrauding the Australian property company Sunland Group of the same amount and using company secrets to attain illegal profits. A 23-page prosecution charge sheet lodged with the Dubai Criminal Courts of First Instance accused the four of swindling David Brown, Sunland's Dubai representative, over the purchase of plot number D-17 at the Waterfront, a sprawling coastal development near Jebel Ali that has since been shelved.

Mr Brown was allegedly instructed to pay the money to Reed, owner of the Australian company Prudential Investment, who, the men claimed, was the land owner. In fact, Dubai-based Nakheel owned the land, said prosecutors. In an apparent bid to make the deal more attractive to Mr Brown, the defendants quoted a land value far lower than the actual price. Manal Shaheen, the chief executive of sales at Nakheel, said the land was valued at Dh120 per foot by MJ and ML in the business case report that they handed to Nakheel management, when surrounding plots cost Dh185 per foot.

"They explained the lower value was due to the land not being on the seafront, but that was not true," said Ms Shaheen. Mr Brown told prosecutors that, in 2007, MJ and ML both claimed that the plot belonged to AR's Prudential Investment. He said he and AR agreed on a partnership deal to develop properties on the land, but later decided that Mr Brown would pay Dh44.1m for outright ownership. Mohammed Mustafa Hussien, a member of the Dubai Financial Department and the lead investigator in the case, told prosecutors that he discovered that MJ received Dh22.1m from AR in an offshore bank account based in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands.

ML and AB were alleged to have made large sums of money from the deal. It was said that they facilitated the fraud by presenting false information within Nakheel and to Sunland. Presiding Judge El Saeed Bargouth adjourned the trial until October 20 for the defence to present its case. Salem al Shaali, representing MJ and ML, said outside court that his clients would reapply for bail at the next hearing.

"We will also request the presence of the prosecution witnesses to be cross-examined," he added. amustafa@thenational.ae