x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Former Nakheel executive to testify

The senior official, who resigned last week, will be at the trial of two other former executives accused of fraud in the shelved Dubai Waterfront project.

DUBAI // A senior Nakheel executive who resigned last week has been ordered to testify at the trial of two other former executives accused of fraud in connection with the shelved Dubai Waterfront project. The Dubai Criminal Court said yesterday that Manal Shaheen, the property firm's former sales chief executive, would be summoned to testify in the trial of MJ, the chief executive of the Dubai Waterfront project, ML, his deputy, and two other Australians.

They are accused of giving false information about the ownership and value of a plot of land at the waterfront project to defraud an Australian developer, Sunland Group, of more than Dh44 million (US$12m). The presiding judge, El Saeed Bargouth, told the court that Ms Shaheen would be cross examined by MJ's lawyer, Salem al Sha'ali, on the question of whether she had sanctioned the sale of the plot by the defendants to Sunland Group.

Court records show that suspicions over the deflated sales price of plot D-17 led to an investigation by the Dubai Government's financial audit department. Dubai Waterfront was a sprawling coastal development project near Jebel Ali that has fizzled out. Mr al Sha'ali told the court yesterday that his client received some of the money he is accused of embezzling prior to his employment with Nakheel, which made it legal.

Prosecutors accuse MJ and ML, along with fellow Australians AB and AR, of swindling David Brown, Sunland's representative in Dubai. Two other suspects, the Waterfront project's chief lawyer, AB, and AR, a businessman, remain at large. Mr Brown was allegedly instructed to pay the money for plot D-17 to AR's company, Prudential Investment, which the men claimed was the owner of the land. In fact, Dubai-based Nakheel owned the land, prosecutors say.

In an apparent bid to make the deal more attractive to Mr Brown, the defendants allegedly quoted a land value far lower than the actual price. Mr Brown told prosecutors that he and AR agreed on a partnership deal to develop properties on the land, but later decided Mr Brown would pay Dh44.1m (US$12m) for outright ownership. Mohammed Hussein, the lead fraud investigator at the financial audit department, told prosecutors he discovered MJ had received Dh22.1m from AR and deposited the money in an offshore bank account, and alleged that ML and AB made large sums of money for facilitating the fraud by presenting false information to Nakheel and Sunland. 

The court adjourned the trial until April 6. @Email:amustafa@thenational.ae