x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Kerala police to visit 'home scam' victims

Officials from Kerala state government will travel to the UAE to interview expatriates who say they were duped into paying for apartments that were never built.

DUBAI // A police team from Kerala will travel to the Emirates next month to record statements from more than 100 expatriate investors who say they were duped by a property developer.

The development comes after the state's chief minister asked police to meet with non-resident Indians (NRIs) in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to help recover money from Apple A Day Properties.

The residents started a campaign earlier this month, seeking the intervention of Indian authorities after police there launched a manhunt for Apple A Day officials who are accused of fraud. The developer allegedly used presentations at property shows in the Emirates to tempt expatriates to invest, then took their money without building anything.

The Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy pledged to take action in a 15-minute video conference last Thursday with more than 40 NRIs from the UAE.

"The chief minister and the director general of police have agreed that a police team will be sent to the UAE," said PT Chacko, the press secretary to Mr Chandy. "The complainants can give their statements to the police, instead of travelling to Kerala."

The National reported last week that anxious buyers, who had paid tens of thousands of dirhams for budget homes in India that were yet to be completed, were urging prospective investors to check builders' records.

Several cases of alleged fraud have been registered against Apple A Day. Their officials, however, have been unreachable.

Two representatives of the property investors group met with Mr Chandy last Wednesday. After the meeting, the government agreed to take statements from the victims through video conferences, which could then be used in court proceedings. Additionally, Mr Chandy will push for the implementation of a real estate regulatory bill drafted in 2007. If the bill becomes law, it will require property developers to undergo background checks for malpractice.

The developments come as a relief to the expatriate community, which plays an important role in India's economy. The annual foreign remittance from the UAE is $6.2 billion (Dh22.9bn), 12 per cent of India's total foreign remittances, according to a recent Standard Chartered Bank report.

"I am sure we will get justice in this case," said Arvind Ramesh, who runs a freight forwarding business in Abu Dhabi, and was among those who took part in the video conference with Mr Chandy.

"We are working day and night to get investors together. We are ready to fight to the end. We know people sometimes give up because nothing happens for years," said Mr Ramesh, who made a partial payment of Rs2.2 million (Dh181,463) in 2008 for a three-bedroom villa in a new township near Cochin that was never built.

"We are confident that we will be able to recover our money," said Krishnakumar Narayanan, a factory manager who invested up to Rs700,000 (Dh57,738) for a plot and two cottage apartments. The plot was never registered in his name and the apartments never constructed. "We have conveyed to the government that this is a genuine issue," he said. "What happens further, we have to wait and see."

Courts in India typically take decades to make rulings in a system that is overloaded with thousands of cases. The investors say they are prepared for the long haul.

Following last week's meeting, another 50 investors from the region made complaints. The group believes that their number will swell to 200 at a meeting this Friday. The bulk of the members are from the UAE, with a handful from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait.

The group can be reached at appleadaycomplaintsuae@gmail.com